Why I Pranked Common App Inc.


It took several months, almost a dozen people and several organizations (including Immigrant Youth Justice LeagueFreedom University and Fair Common App) to plan and execute the prank on Common Application Inc. — tricking three news outlets into spreading fake news that the corporation responsible for facilitating college application submissions had changed its policies towards undocumented students and issued a formal apology to the undocumented community. 

It wasn't until Tuesday evening that these outlets received information the video released on Thursday showed an undocumented activist, poet and a member of the Georgia 8. In other words, me. 

I did this because I am undocumented, my community is undocumented, and my community is under attack by the Common Application, which is stealing the hopes and dreams of my undocumented brothers and sisters across the country.

I made the announcement because it needed to be said. I hope the Common Application repeats it word for word in the coming days.

This Yes Men-style action was organized by me and a group of self-described “undoculovers” in order to call attention to the barriers undocumented students face in all educational institutions, not merely Common App. Now it falls to others to rise to the occasion as a movement, take action, and engage in purposeful dialogue to move people to the leftin the direction of the immigrant justice movement. 

I believe that this is an opportunity for people to critique their caper and employ ever-more creative, innovative actions. As I have commented previously, channeling my mentor Julio Salgado, an UndocuQueer art activist, several tactics have been employed by the immigrant rights movement and this is the freshest and best intersection of art and activism that we’ve have been able to produce.

This action is a prime example of the bravery, innovation and determination undocumented youth and their allies have brought to the migrant and educational justice movements. I agreed to impersonate the Common App Communications Director because it is part of a broader organizing strategy which includes clear, winnable, and deeply-felt objectives, identification of targets who can give activists what we want, and selection of tactics what will get activists closer to our goals.

My performative embodiment of Daniel Vargas, a wry caricature of American corporate elite, received press from the likes of Colorlines.comVOXXI and Cuentame as if the Common App decision was real, and was trolled by a Huffington Post journalist on Twitter. 

Because of Georgia’s ban on undocumented youth enrollment in public universities, most undocumented students’ only option is to apply to private colleges. Unfortunately, over 400 of the private colleges partnered with Common App routinely discriminate against undocumented applicants by labeling them “international,” guaranteeing them a separate, unequal admissions process. According to one study, as few as 5% of undocumented students ever attend college. 

My undocumented peers and I have extended an invitation to Common App Executive Director Rob Killion to meet with us at the Georgia-based Freedom University, a volunteer-run project offering free college-level classes to undocumented students. Killion has not responded to our offer to discuss the hopes and struggles of undocumented students.

Reactions to my speech have varied, but the undocumented youth activist community has been overwhelmingly supportive of the action and view targeting of Common App as an important step in the fight for immigrant rights and educational justice. 

Mitzy, an undocumented Freedom University student, commented: “The Common Application oppresses our community, segregates our nation’s higher education system by immigration status, so our community is fighting back. I feel like the headline should read ‘Brown v. Board retracted: Supreme Court Blames Activists for Hoax Ruling.’”

An earlier version of this article appeared at {young}ist.