Our Story

✦ early 2000s

Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales were born in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States at the age of four-years-old. They are Mixtec (Ñuu Savi) (people of the rain). Their lived experiences illustrate the intersectionality of being Indigenous to Turtle Island and being labeled Undocumented by settler-colonial structures.

As Indigenous girls from working-class backgrounds, the Cruz-Morales twins always dreamt of becoming college graduates and pursuing their wildest dreams. Melanie and Sheila, along with their older brother Erik, were aware that obtaining a college degree as Undocumented students with limited resources would pose major challenges. However, they were  determined to pursue their dreams.

✦ 2017

In 2017, Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales were on the verge of graduating from Teaneck High School.

As Undocumented students in the American public school system, they encountered discouragement from xenophobic educators, counselors, and peers who repeatedly suggested that pursuing a college degree was an unattainable dream for them. Due to their immigration status, Melanie and Sheila faced challenges such as the absence of federal and state financial aid, a lack of scholarships for undocumented students, and eligibility restrictions for school applications.

As President Trump's xenophobic agenda intensified its attacks against immigrants -- Melanie and Sheila prompted into action and activism.

During the fall of 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded the DACA program, putting a complete halt to new DACA applicants and threatening the legal protections and lives of current DACA recipients.

The Cruz-Morales twins, Melanie and Sheila, who carry a natural instinct for civic engagement, had previously attended board of education meetings and protests. However, witnessing their communities under attack and lacking political representation, they felt compelled to come out of the shadows as Undocumented Youth and advocate for immigrants like them.

At the time, Melanie and Sheila were the only openly Undocumented students in Teaneck High School. Despite being well aware of the potential dangers associated with disclosing their immigration status, they chose to dedicate themselves to becoming Immigrant Rights activists active in their communities. The Cruz-Morales twins have consistently felt a profound responsibility to advocate for their communities.

Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales took charge, educating their community on the realities of being undocumented. The Cruz-Morales twins began organizing and raising awareness on the legislative attacks against the immigrant community, by publicly sharing their stories.

✦ 2018

Following the tragic Parkland School Shooting that struck the nation, Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales, serving as Co-Presidents of the Activism Club, organized their first protest at Teaneck High School in 2018.

The organized walkout drew an attendance of +1,200 students, advocating for legislation promoting gun safety.

Their efforts in student activism and advocacy for gun safety for all Americans were acknowledged and commended by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. This recognition served as a significant acknowledgment of their activism, further fueling their passion for politics, policy-making, and effecting positive change.

Approaching the end of senior year, Melanie and Sheila sat in their AP Government and Politics class with their teacher, Daicy Diaz-Granados. It was Daicy who reassured them not to abandon their aspirations for higher education. Serving as the educator who steadfastly believed in the twins' possibilities and potentials, Daicy Diaz-Granados played a pivotal role in their lives.

In the fall of 2018, Melanie and Sheila embarked on their higher education journey at Bergen Community College, pursuing their Associate's degrees. Confronted with limited resources available for Undocumented students in New Jersey, the twins juggled three jobs simultaneously to finance their first year at Community College. A pivotal moment occurred when Mrs. Diaz took them to visit a college campus in NYC. It was during this visit that the twins became resolute in their determination to fight for their education like never before.

✦ 2019

Recognizing the potential of community college as America's best-kept secret, Melanie and Sheila felt compelled to share this knowledge with other undocumented and working-class students. They approached their mentor, Daicy Diaz, with the idea of establishing a community organization to help other marginalized students realize the possibilities of higher education.

Sheila, and Melanie took action and co-founded College Access for Non-Citizens. The creation of C.A.N. took place with their first event in October 2019.

Determined to continue advocating for their immigrant community and providing assistance, the Cruz-Morales Twins balanced their studies with community building and organizing local events and workshops. They educated immigrant parents and students on navigating FAFSA, scholarships, and college applications, while also teaching recently arrived  migrants, of all ages, how to speak English.

In their pursuit of transfer options, the twins aspired to study in Washington D.C. to make a meaningful impact in politics.

However, when they explored the opportunity to be nominated for a Georgetown University scholarship, they discovered that their immigration status rendered them ineligible. Undeterred, Melanie and Sheila engaged in advocacy efforts, urging the Georgetown Admissions Office to reconsider their policy. After persistent back-and-forth discussions, the twins successfully lobbied for a change in the eligibility requirement.

Georgetown responded by informing them that they would eliminate the citizenship requirement, making them eligible for scholarship nomination. Importantly, this modification in requirements benefited all applicants and expanded opportunity.

✦ 2020 - 2023

In 2020, after significant dedication and effort, the Cruz-Morales twins achieved acceptance into their dream school, Georgetown University.

Their story went viral on social media, news outlets, and magazines, inspiring other undocumented, first-generation, and students of color.

Melanie pursued a diverse academic path, majoring in Government, Philosophy, and minoring in Women and Gender Studies. Sheila majored in Government and minored in Women and Gender Studies. They actively engaged in various roles, including leadership in student government, student activism and organizing that improved campus life for first-generation students.

✦ Now

During their time at Georgetown, Melanie and Sheila elevated their advocacy efforts to a national level. Influenced by their mentors, political strategist Donna Brazile and prominent American philosopher Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, they deepened their commitment to advancing racial justice and social impact.

In May 2023, the Cruz-Morales twins proudly graduated from Georgetown, recognized notable members of their senior class. Their journey as undocumented students had been a formidable struggle, and their achievement of obtaining a college degree marked a significant triumph.

A week after graduating from Georgetown, Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales stood in the halls of the West Wing of the White House with a clear goal: to advocate for more inclusive policies that would benefit not only DACA recipients but all undocumented immigrants. Their purpose was to demand immigration reform and affirm the humanity of themselves and their community.

Now, having achieved their dream of obtaining higher education, they aspire to help extend that opportunity to others. Reflecting on their educational journeys, Sheila and Melanie wouldn't change a thing, as their stories prove that anything is possible and that systemic barriers are not stronger than the resistance that lies within our communities. They currently work in politics, live in the Nation's capitol, and are ready to change the world.

College Access for Non-citizens is a non-partisan, grassroots, youth-led nonprofit organization (501(c)(3)), committed to dismantling barriers in higher education.