UCR grad student Ariana with FLOTUS Jill Biden and UCR Chancellor Wilcox.

Highlander celebrates 10-year anniversary of DACA with FLOTUS

UCR Dreamer answers 10 questions about visiting the White House

July 5, 2022
Author: Malinn Loeung
July 5, 2022

Ariana Aparicio Aguilar, a doctoral student in UCR's School of Education and a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was recently invited with Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox to attend a 10-year DACA anniversary at the White House.


Learn about Ariana's White House visit in this Q&A 

Q: What’s your name, major, school, and expected graduation year?
A: Ariana Aparicio Aguilar, Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and Policy, School of Education, and spring 2026. 

Q: What’s your DACA story?
A. I came to the U.S. from Mexico at a young age, brought by my parents. We settled in Marin County in Northern California. I graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College with a transfer degree on the Dean’s High Honors list and then attended Sonoma State University (SSU), where I focused on sociology. As a Latina, first-generation, undocumented woman of color educated in the American school system, I felt as many other immigrants do — neither from here nor from there. By going to college, I was trying to understand and build my place in society.

At the time of my graduation from SSU in 2011, I and many thousands of undocumented students faced a lot of uncertainties regarding our careers and lives. Fortunately, in 2012 I became a recipient of a new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children to study and work legally. I could now work, drive, and even travel to see my extended family in Mexico. Being a DACA recipient allowed me to gain meaningful work experience that led me to obtain a master’s in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2019. Today, I am excited to be pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and Policy at UC Riverside.

Q: How has UCR played a part in your DACA experience?
A: UCR has provided me with a great Ph.D. program in Higher Education Administration and Policy and opportunities such as going to Washington D.C. that I would not have been provided at another UC campus. Finding a program with caring professors and diverse students has been a positive experience for me as the DACA program continues to be in limbo.
Q: How were you chosen for the White House visit? What was the process? 
I was provided the opportunity to participate in the 10th Anniversary of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by Ana Coria, UCR's Undocumented Student Programs director. She shared that there was an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. with Chancellor Wilcox and asked if I was interested in participating, and I expressed my interest without hesitation.
Q: How did you feel about being chosen? Who did you first tell?
I felt excited to be selected to represent not only UCR and UCR’s School of Education but also undocumented students with and without DACA. I told my parents first that I was selected to go to D.C.
Q: How did you prepare for the visit? Explain the months/weeks/days leading up to it.
After accepting the invitation to go to Washington D.C., I had three weeks to prepare for the visit. I completed my finals and moved back to the Bay Area for the summer. The Presidents Alliance of Higher Education and Immigration, one of the organizations planning the DACA anniversary event, conducted a workshop for all DACA participants.
Q: What was the actual day like? 
The actual day was busy from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We took the bus from Catholic University to the Capitol steps where a press conference was conducted with members of Congress and immigration organizations. Chancellor Wilcox and I had the opportunity to take a photograph with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla  from California and other politicians. We then went to a location to get tested for COVID and met up with 10 other folks who were also selected to go to the White House. After getting the test results, we walked over together and were greeted by Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior advisor to the President, and we were allowed to take as many pictures as we liked. Dr. Jill Biden came out shortly after and we were allowed to take a photograph with her.
Q: Is there anything you would have done or said differently at the visit?
We were not provided much time with Dr. Jill Biden, so I am glad that I took my brief photograph interaction with her to share my thoughts around needing a more permanent solution for undocumented folks than what DACA provides.
Q: Can you share any behind-the-scenes moments from the visit? What does the White House smell like? What did they feed you?
A: The White House did not have a particular smell, but they did feed us hors d'oeuvres and sparkling drinks, water, and lemonade.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and/or the experience?
I am grateful for the opportunity that UC Riverside provided me to join Chancellor Wilcox in attending the 10th Anniversary of DACA and being able to put in my grain of sand toward positive change for a group of students that UCR serves. I was happy and proud to represent UC Riverside in Washington D.C.