Undocumented students feel welcome, thrive in San Bernardino Valley College’s Machinist Technology Program

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San Bernardino Valley College’s (SBVC) machinist technology program is a safe and welcoming place for undocumented students to learn new skills and earn certificates.

There is no federal or state law prohibiting people who are undocumented from enrolling in college. Machinist Technology Professor Miguel Ortiz wants undocumented people interested in going to school, especially those 30 and older, to know that he will guide them through the process of becoming a student.

“It’s a smooth transition,” Ortiz said. “We haven’t had any issues, and there’s help. If they’re going to be one of my students, I speak Spanish, which is very important.”

Arley H. has always wanted to go to college but wasn’t sure what options were available to him as an undocumented immigrant. A friend told him about SBVC, and he worked with Ortiz to get enrolled in the machinist technology program. Arley has spent the last 14 years in the manufacturing industry, but because he does not speak English and did not attend school, he was not earning promotions and pay raises at work.

That was something he was determined to change. He enrolled at SBVC and is now receiving training on brand new, state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. He said he is excited about his future.

“By having the opportunity to learn, I’ll be able to rise in the ranks or look for employment elsewhere,” he said.

Jose B. found out about the machinist technology program at the swap meet across the street from SBVC, where Ortiz set up an informational booth. Jose repairs heavy industrial equipment and has spent years watching others do tasks he would like to perform. Before learning about the machinist technology program at SBVC, Jose said he was unaware of a path to attain those skills.

“I’ve already learned a lot of new things, and it’s been very good for me,” he said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to run this type of equipment before. For the type of work I do, other people prep it for me, but by acquiring these skills, there’s the possibility of me being able to do both things.”

Both Arley and Jose have families, and while it can be difficult balancing work with school and their home lives, they said it is worth it to have the opportunity to advance in the workplace. Arley and Jose can communicate in Spanish with Ortiz and several of their classmates, and both said they feel comfortable and welcome on campus.

SBVC has a resource center for DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), and Ortiz said he is grateful for SBVC DREAMer Counselor Tania Laguna for the time she spent getting Arley enrolled at SBVC. Ortiz acknowledged the importance of DREAMers on campus and wanted undocumented students of all ages and any skill level to know they can sign up for machinist technology courses at SBVC.

“The program is open to everyone willing to come in and learn,” Ortiz said. “Don’t be scared. I am available at all times, and if someone decides they want to come on board, meet with me, and I’ll take the bull by the horns and do what I have to do and maneuver as much as I can to get them in.”