For most of Krystle Johnson’s life the issue of her immigration status never got her down — up until recently when she faced possibly losing everything she worked hard to achieve.
Johnson, 20, is currently in the process of applying for her green card, and for the past 18 years has been living in the country without any documentation after emigrating from Jamaica with a visa.
In a year when immigration reform has been a hot topic for presidential candidates from both parties, her story illustrates the struggle a total of about 65,000 undocumented students face in the nation, according to a report by the Center for American Progress.
The Brooklyn resident is enrolled at CUNY Lehman College and is studying business administration with a concentration in marketing.
However, just as she was finishing up the first half of her sophomore year this fall her world came crashing down when she was notified by the school that she could not apply for the spring semester until she paid off a total of $6,500 — by Jan. 16, 2016.
For most students, paying for tuition can be handled through financial aid but due to Johnson’s immigration status she is ineligible to receive any help. Her family is also not able to help her financially so she was left afraid of what would happen next.
"It’s a real setback because I had all my classes and I was ready to already start and all of a sudden it was this big thing that happened,” Johnson said. "I think people in these situations should get more help than they are getting because we are just left on our own."
During this time Johnson turned to her friend Denise Hughes, who she met through the one-on-one mentoring program iMentor three years ago. The two were partnered up and a friendship flourished from their love for writing.
Hughes reached out to friends and colleagues who finally put them in contact with Angy Rivera, an activist who was an undocumented immigrant for 19 years and started the first national undocumented online youth advice column.
Through Rivera, Hughes and Johnson looked at options to help with the tuition and came upon starting a GoFundMe campaign.
“It’s really a blessing honestly, because without Denise I don’t think I would be this far,” Johnson said. “It almost makes me cry sometimes because without her I don’t know where I would be right now.”
Hughes said that she wanted to help Johnson, because the 20-year-old has been a “blessing” in her life. She added that watching and helping Johnson finish up high school and seeing her commitment to her family and community, she was pushed to find out what really motivated her and led Hughes to enroll in graduate school.
"Krystle has been a very big blessing in my life,” Hughes said. "The thing that always inspired me about Krystle is her dedication. She is just a very inspiring young lady.”
Since launching on Dec. 21, the GoFundMe campaign has garnered $1,500 of its $6,580 goal and the wave of support has both women feeling deeply grateful.
"It has just been very beautiful and inspiring to see so many people that I have never met donating to a wonderful lady they don’t know but they should know,” Hughes said.
To donate, visit Krystle’s Tuition Fund campaign page at www.gofundme.com/krystlestuition.