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Undocumented, DACA students spread activism

Member+of+I-CAUSE+at+a+general+meeting+at+the+La+Casa+Cultural+Latina+House.+I-CAUSE+is+a+group+of+undocumented+and+DACA+students+and+staff+at+the+University.+Its+mission+is+to+educate+community+members+and+help+other+undocumented+students.+
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Undocumented, DACA students spread activism

Member of I-CAUSE at a general meeting at the La Casa Cultural Latina House. I-CAUSE is a group of undocumented and DACA students and staff at the University. Its mission is to educate community members and help other undocumented students.

Member of I-CAUSE at a general meeting at the La Casa Cultural Latina House. I-CAUSE is a group of undocumented and DACA students and staff at the University. Its mission is to educate community members and help other undocumented students.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Garcia

Member of I-CAUSE at a general meeting at the La Casa Cultural Latina House. I-CAUSE is a group of undocumented and DACA students and staff at the University. Its mission is to educate community members and help other undocumented students.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Garcia

Photo courtesy of Kevin Garcia

Member of I-CAUSE at a general meeting at the La Casa Cultural Latina House. I-CAUSE is a group of undocumented and DACA students and staff at the University. Its mission is to educate community members and help other undocumented students.

By Vishesh Anand, Senior Reporter

Ana Rodas wants her story to be heard. She wants people to know about the challenges she faces as a student with a DACA status at a public university and to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy, has allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 a two-year period of protection from deportation. It also made them eligible to obtain a driver’s license and work legally. Rodas received her DACA status in 2013.

Rodas, first-year graduate student in graphic design, emigrated from Guatemala to the United States at the age of 6. Her parents overstayed their visas and settled down in the northern suburbs of Chicago to provide a better life, better education and more opportunities for their daughter.

Rodas was aware of her citizenship status from a very young age. If she ever felt excluded because of it, she didn’t show it.

In high school, she was a three-sport athlete with a 4.0 GPA and over 100 volunteer hours.

“I was always told, ‘Do well in school, and you’ll get to college.’ That was always the mentality,” Rodas said. “How? I don’t know. Pay for it? Worse, we had no idea. But we knew that that was the next step. So I strived to work for that.”

To assist with her college tuition expenses, she applied to over 40 scholarships but ultimately only received two. Rodas felt her citizenship status unjustly defined her in the process.

At the University, undocumented and DACA students aren’t eligible for federal or state financial aid. Rodas was still undocumented when she applied to the University as an undergraduate.

Rodas recalled a time when it seemed like she would not be able to attend college at all. But her uncle, who is an American citizen, assisted her with obtaining a student loan, and she started her undergraduate studies in graphic design at the University in 2014.

She soon found herself involved with activist groups on campus, where she could use her experience to help others. In 2016, Rodas’ sophomore year, she was on the founding group of the Illinois Coalition Assisting Undocumented Students’ Education, also known as I-CAUSE.

I-CAUSE is an alliance of undocumented and DACA students and staff at the University. The student-led group’s purpose is to raise awareness to create an inclusive climate for undocumented students to voice their concerns.

“We try to educate the community about who immigrants are and what their purposes (for immigrating) are,” said Kevin Garcia, sophomore in LAS and Business and president of I-CAUSE.

He said even though I-CAUSE is a small group of just 15 members, their work can improve the lives of undocumented students across campus.

The coalition launched Open Illinois, which is an online resource that provides information and guidance for students that are affected by immigration reforms.

Garcia added that I-CAUSE is also an advocacy group that tries to fight back against the risk of “hate activism” on campus. In March 2018, members of the coalition participated in a silent counter-protest to Turning Point USA’s “Wall for Victims” memorial on the Main Quad.

I-CAUSE also advocates for policy changes. Rodas was involved in the coalition’s lobbying efforts to gather support for the Student ACCESS bill.

Rodas said the bill addressed the main challenge undocumented students face when considering applying for college: financial aid. If passed, the bill would legally allow public universities in Illinois to use state funds to provide financial aid to undocumented students.

The coalition also gathers various resources to better support undocumented students, helping them to succeed academically. In addition to providing information about scholarships, Garcia said, I-CAUSE funds one scholarship each year as well.

They organize a fundraising gala every spring to assist an undocumented student with his or her expenses. Garcia said their last event raised approximately $4,500.

“(Undocumented students) need an environment that respects and values them. They need to feel that they belong like everyone else,” Dr. Gio Guerra Perez said.

Perez, assistant chancellor for diversity and academic inclusive excellence, works with campus groups to develop and implement campus initiatives that promote diversity and inclusivity.

She worked with I-CAUSE to deliver the most recent Undocumented Student Ally Training last Friday. The coalition introduced the training in 2016 to educate staff, administration and faculty members about ways to provide better support to undocumented students.

The training seminar is split into four modules, where attendees can learn about immigration laws, barriers for DACA students and listen to a student panel talk about their experiences growing up and studying without a proper citizenship status.

Through I-CAUSE, Rodas first learned about the power of her story.

“I wasn’t aware that (my story) could change lives,” she said. “This could help someone get through college or get through high school, or (get) motivated to apply to college,” Rodas said. “But slowly over time, over many experiences — the good, the bad, the ugly, many tears. I realized opening myself up and putting myself in vulnerable situations, it empowers somebody else.”

In March 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DACA program would be rescinded. The decision has spurred a legal battle that will shape the fate of the program and its 800,000 recipients.

“There’s extra stress going on with the political climate. It just brings about a lot of uncertainty, and that creates more anxiety and pressure,” Garcia said.

While federal courts in New York, California and Washington D.C. have ordered US Citizenship and Immigrant Services to allow current recipients to apply for DACA renewal, the National Immigration Law Center believes this option can be taken away at any time.

“There is a lot of stuff that we wish we could focus on and tackle,” Garcia said. “We wish we could change the world, but we try to play our part by inspiring people to try to make a change. We educate the community by bringing awareness and sharing these stories from different avenues because they are real.”

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