Obama’s executive action, campus documentary screening open discourse for undocumented students

By Charlotte Collins

Ganchimeg Ganzorig was in high school when she applied to a job and found out she was “different.” 

“They told me I can work, but they just needed my social security number,” Ganzorig said. “I asked my mother and she said I didn’t have any documents.”

At the age of eight, Ganzorig’s family left their native country of Mongolia for the U.S.

“I felt normal, like everyone else, I grew up here. My life is here,” she said.

As a student at the University of Illinois, however, she is not alone. The University of Illinois is known for attracting students from around the globe. According to a recent study released by the Open Doors Institute, the University of Illinois is the third-highest ranking institution for hosting the largest number of international students in the 2013 to 2014 academic year.

However, not all international students are under the same stress as Ganzorig, a junior in LAS, as undocumented students do not qualify for any financial aid and many scholarships exclude those who are not U.S. citizens.

Illinois state law allows the University to accept undocumented students and charge them in-state tuition, as long as they graduated from a high school in Illinois after having attended it for three or more years. Going to college in America put a significant financial burden on Ganzorig’s family.

“I’ve been working multiple jobs since high school and through my parents, whatever they scrape through and whatever jobs they have it’s all dependent on them, loans from people. Because to apply for student loans you need papers,” she said. “It’s a lot of borrowing money and every single dime and penny from my parents.”

Recently, President Barack Obama introduced an executive action regarding immigration in the U.S. It outlines a four-point plan to bring to light the “11 million people living in the shadows” of the country.

Undocumented immigrants can expect to see more legal ways to come forth and obtain citizenship. Additionally, undocumented graduate students in math and science will receive assistance to stay in the country “rather than take their skills to other countries.” 

Ganzorig believes there has been a stigma around the topic of undocumented immigrants and hopes the proposed reform in the news will start some discourse. 

“I think a lot of people here in the U.S. think undocumented people are people that are uneducated or have no values. These are people that are working hard and trying to just survive,” Ganzorig said. “Start a conversation and break down the wall instead of just sweeping it under the rug.” 

The Illinois Student Senate is hoping to open discussion on campus by teaming together with a newly-formed registered student organization, RISE. 

The student senate approved allocating funds to premiere the movie Documented, an autobiographical film by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino-born journalist who shared his personal experience living in the U.S. for many years and later came forward publicly with his undocumented status. 

In addition to obtaining the rights to show the film, ISS and RISE are working together to host a screening next semester. James Tandaric, chair of international and minority student affairs and junior in LAS, said Vishal Disawar, executive director of RISE and sophomore in LAS, came to him with the idea for a screening.

“RISE is a new RSO on campus and it focuses on things like immigration reforms. (Disawar) contacted me and said he wanted to start an event because often it’s an issue that isn’t talked about even though there are definitely undocumented students on this campus,” Tandaric said. “We’re going to show the documentary then do a student and faculty panel about immigration reform.”

While she admits it can be a touchy topic, Ganzorig said that she’s glad recent developments like Obama’s executive action and the documentary screening are opening up discourse on immigration reform. 

Her position is one of conflict: caught between believing there should be laws in place to naturalize citizens and have immigrants come through legally and having already broken those laws. However, she said those who strictly think all undocumented citizens should be deported are being too extreme.

“People say, ‘Oh they should be deported because they came here illegally, doesn’t matter the situation,’” she said. “I want to say to them, you’re talking about the people who are cooking for you, cutting your grass, cleaning your houses or taking care of your children, all these activities that they don’t notice. That’s contradictory to me.” 

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]