New position for DREAM Action NIU guides undocumented students

By Taher Zeitoun

DeKALB — University officials created a coordinator position for DREAM Action NIU, now held by Sandy López. Her role involves assisting undocumented students who are facing different hardships.

DREAM Action NIU, which started in 2009, is a student-led organization recognized by the Student Association. The organization aims to increase awareness about the situations undocumented students face in the U.S., particularly on campus.

Sandy López, coordinator for undocumented student support, said NIU is one of three schools to create a coordinator position to help with organizations like DREAM Action NIU. López said the position was put in place to guide undocumented students through the admission process and provide counseling.  

López started her 25-year career at NIU as a teacher for deaf students. She then transitioned to working for the Illinois Association of Business Officials as the technology director, followed by working as the assistant director of the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies for eight  years. 

López said in 2008 she started getting involved with volunteer work. Her volunteer services included being an election judge, working at various citizenship workshops and translating at free health care clinics.

López said an experience she had at an immigration facility with her father is what interested her in the position. She said she and her father were treated rudely when trying to renew his immigration card, which opened her eyes to lack of support of undocumented individuals.

“Never again will I stand on the sidelines and watch people being treated like that,” López said. “It sparked this activism in me that had been dormant for many years.”

This incident led her to work at the DREAM Action center where she was asked to take on the role of advisor before applying to be coordinator.

Working as an advisor by day and activist by night, López was driven to apply to be the coordinator for DACA. She said she wanted to take on the role as the support system for this student-run institution.

López said after the DACA Bill was slated to be terminated, students were requesting more support for the organization. She said the consistent effort from students is what lead to her new position being created.

“It makes me proud as an NIU alumni to see the change and recognize the cultural contribution that this student-led organization adds to our community, and now more people are realizing that,” López said.

Yeon Woo Kim, DREAM Action NIU outreach coordinator, said having a coordinator position is beneficial to the students and helps guide students to the correct resources. 

“It is vital that there is someone in a position that is able to provide the undocumented an outlet to turn to in times of distress and also as a resource with the documentation process,” Kim said.

Kim said NIU is taking necessary steps by creating this position.

“Having this position displays the strides NIU is taking toward an increased awareness toward immigration and diversity issues that are not given enough attention,” Kim said.

Kim said López’s new position creates more opportunity in scholarships for undocumented students. She also said creating a support system for a platform that is bringing about change for the better is key in progressing forward. 

First year law student Laura Cholula said the importance of reaching out to undocumented commuting students is crucial.

“Because of the long commute for some of the students, there are many that don’t even know we exist and are not able to take advantage of the DREAM Action program we have in place,” Cholula said. “I personally knew a student who graduated and never knew there were others in the same position.” 

Speaking from her perspective as the previous president of DREAM Action NIU, Cholula said there is a lack of financial support given to undocumented students. She said the creation of this position provides hope for students who are not able to qualify for financial aid due to federal laws. 

“The unspoken truth is these students are not able to qualify for financial aid or any types of federal loans,” Cholula said. “The fact that students like us take these steps to expose these truths allows schools like NIU to pave the way for change that could result in a brighter future in relation to citizenship laws.”

Cholula said one of her main goals as president was to gain traction for these issues, and the coordinator position for DREAM Action NIU is important in regard to the ability to create change

“This should be seen as an example; you can change policy,” Cholula said. “Start with an idea, and stay organized, and you can create change for people that need it.”