Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jonathan Noriega: Keeping his eyes on the prize during uncertain times

Jonathan Noriega Sandoval 

Jonathan Noriega Sandoval doesn’t want the journey to end. A Grossmont College scholar aiming to transfer to San Diego State University next fall, Noriega – brought without proper documentation across the border when he was a toddler – is protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a program that could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. 

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on Nov. 12.

“There is a lot of rhetoric going on right now about the DACA program,” Noriega said. “You hear people calling us ‘criminals,’ but you cannot be in DACA if you’re a criminal. We’re just trying to be the best we can, to contribute in a positive way. But I realize this is all out of my hands. You have to just go on about your day. I can’t let it get to my head too much. I can’t control what happens. What I can control is my work, helping my family, and doing well in school.”

Noriega has been doing well in school since he arrived at Grossmont College in spring 2017. His  grade point average is 3.7, including three semesters of nothing but A’s on his transcripts. He’s also a student ambassador to area high schools while helping his parents care for two younger sisters.

His efforts this fall yielded a Griffin Award of Excellence from the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges. Noriega will be among the scores of students honored at a scholarship reception in January.

EOPS Program Specialist Maria De La Cruz said Noriega is more than deserving. She called him a quiet leader dedicated to and motivated by family.

“Jonathan has always been the kind of person who leads through example and we’re all really impressed with the way he carries himself,” De La Cruz said. “He is someone who makes the most of any opportunity he’s provided with, and his potential is limitless.”

Noriega, 23, was born in the Sinaloa hamlet of Coyotitan near the west-central Mexican coast and brought by his parents across the border when he was 3. He has few memories of Mexico. Raised in the San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, Noriega attended Edison Elementary School and Wilson Middle School before the family moved to Spring Valley. Waking up at 5 a.m daily and taking a one-hour, one-way bus ride, he was determined to attend University City High School in San Diego on the advice of friends who encouraged him to seek the kind of educational opportunities that could transform his life.

As a non-citizen with limited options, however, Noriega decided after graduating to move with an uncle to the San Francisco Bay Area to work and – hopefully – save money for college. “I am not eligible for federal financial aid,” he said, “so my options are limited.” He later returned to San Diego, found a job at a local car dealership, and met a mentor – De La Cruz’s husband – who encouraged him to enroll at Grossmont College.

It was a wise decision.

“I just felt comfortable and welcome here as soon as I stepped on the campus,” Noriega said of Grossmont. “People were looking out for me from Day One. They have helped me from the beginning through the Dream Center, EOPS, tutoring. They have helped me with book vouchers, priority registration, it’s all been pretty amazing. They want to see you succeed, no matter where you’re from.”

A first-generation college student whose parents never finished high school, Noriega is on track to graduate from Grossmont in the spring of 2020 with an associate degree in Business Administration. Along the way, he is aiming to land an internship or two at a local television station. He plans on leaving San Diego State with a business degree with an emphasis in marketing.

His plans at the moment, however, are a little up in the air. That’s what happens when you’re uncertain about the future of your immigration status.

Noriega is not alone. The California Community Colleges system estimates it serves between 50,000 and 70,000 undocumented students in the state, and the Migration Policy Institute estimates that half that number are probably protected by the DACA program, which was implemented by former President Barack Obama after Congress was unable to pass an immigration reform bill.

A Supreme Court DACA decision is expected next spring. But during Nov. 12 oral arguments, the court’s conservative majority was receptive to the Trump Administration’s position.

“I’m not a political person, but I understand the passions and the arguments,” he said. “Honestly, I think the Supreme Court will overturn it. It was an executive order by previous president. I’m not an expert, I’m not into politics, but it would seem to me that’s what the Supreme Court will decide. But the bottom line is this it’s really Congress’s job to get something done.”