Diana Delgado Cornejo, now 21 and about to graduate from Loyola Marymount University, says her father delivered the shocking news to her about 10 years ago.
The family had no papers.
"We were in the car, and I started crying," she said. "I'd heard about all the scary illegals and I thought, 'Oh no. I can't be one of them.' I remember curling up under the bed and trying not to breathe."
Delgado and her college-educated parents had legally moved to the United States from Peru when she was 5, but a work visa had expired.
Delgado was so devastated by the news, her mother took an unusual step to try to calm her.
"She said it wasn't true," Delgado said, as though her dad had told a bad joke.
Delgado chose to believe her mother.
She worked hard to fit in, to lose any trace of an accent, to be more American. She earned a scholarship to a private school in Calabasas, where one of her classmates was a daughter of Donald Trump.
Then it came time to fill out papers for college applications. None of the boxes worked for her. She was neither a citizen nor a foreigner and had always thought she was in some legal limbo on the way to citizenship.
Finally it became clear: Her father had been telling the truth.
The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers temporary relief from the threat of deportation to some young immigrants, gave her a reprieve. She got a full scholarship to Loyola, where she majored in language and minored in philosophy.
FOR THE RECORD
April 27, 5:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this column misstated the program that offers temporary relief from deportation to some young immigrants. It is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, not the Dream Act.
It's hardly surprising that Delgado joined about two dozen other undocumented students at the Jesuit campus and took part in activities such as the annual immigration awareness week.
Those were pretty low-key affairs each year, she said.
This year was different.
"We decided … to build a wall mimicking the Donald Trump wall … and spray-paint it with immigration-affirming graffiti," Delgado told me Monday morning during a break in her studies for a philosophy final.
"No human being is illegal," said one section of the Styrofoam wall. "Dreams have no borders," another said.
There was also a passage from Exodus:
"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner."
Late one night, someone spray-painted "Trump" onto the wall, and "stop deportations" was altered to read "deport all illegals."
"Everyone's reaction was panic and defeat, and no, not at LMU," Delgado said.
Not that she was caught entirely off-guard. The evening of the vandalism she'd seen some social media chatter "filled with vitriol and people daring each other to deface the wall."
Those sentiments must have been contagious, because even before the buzz about the wall defacement had died down, someone had removed signs for gay awareness week — then a heated exchange broke out between a school employee and students trying to put the signs back where they had been.
Someone also scrawled "offensive and politically motivated phrases" on a second-floor wall of University Hall, according to an account from Loyola's Bias Incident Response Team.
Suddenly, with finals approaching and a commencement speech by President Clinton coming up May 7, "the campus was knocked off its identity pedestal," English professor Ruben Martinez said.
"The idea of social justice means to look after the downtrodden, the poor in spirit.... For hate speech to occur on our campus is totally out of character."
There was no evidence that those few incidents represented widespread views. And the last thing colleges should be teaching is censorship.
Delgado said she would have welcomed an open airing of all viewpoints, but she didn't appreciate the cowardly act of vandalism.
Still, the response on campus was far more evolved than much of the discourse in the current presidential campaign.
Students gathered to share their thoughts. Professors led discussions, some of them at the wall where the messages were Trumped over. Students were encouraged to build and participate in an environment in which people are comfortable to share views — liberal, conservative or otherwise — in constructive rather than divisive ways.
"Moments like this give us an opportunity to dig deeper," said theology professor Douglas Christie, "and bring to the conversation our values and our questions about what a human being is."
Christie said a discussion on sexuality brought together Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews who spoke about feeling excluded from their own religious traditions. Religious scholars countered with different interpretations of those traditions.
"My biggest concern," said theology professor Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, "is that this not turn into a moment of vitriol and divisiveness, but that we approach it in the Jesuit tradition of walking with Christ and seeing what it feels like to be the one who is the other, the suffering other, and to invite everyone to walk with that other."
Delgado worked with Loyola's Latino Faculty Assn. on a letter to school President Timothy Law Snyder, calling for anti-hate training for students and staff, demanding that the outgoing provost is replaced by someone with a record of inclusion, and that the university recruit students with an eye toward making the school more representative of L.A.'s growing Latino population.
"We can do better," Snyder said Tuesday in a schoolwide letter that embraced some of those recommendations and applauded students "for their active engagement."
Delgado told me she respected those opposed to illegal immigration. But she thinks Trump's rhetoric has ignored social and economic complexities, emboldened haters to speak their minds and torpedoed any chance of a rational discussion on immigration reform.
"If only we were free from partisan manacles," she said, "we might be able to actually have a conversation."
The night the wall was vandalized, she responded with a Facebook message:
"I came up with the idea of the wall for a reason. You leave it up, our message is there. You tear it down [or] vandalize it, our message is stronger."