NIU continues to advocate for undocumented students

By James Krause

DeKALB — NIU is working to assist students that are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with a month remaining before its expiration deadline.

The deadline for legislation that would continue to allow renewals of legal status for DACA recipients is March 5. NIU has been working since the announcement was made in September to provide support for DACA students.

Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden said the university remains committed to its mission of diversity and access.

“NIU as a whole remains an advocate for inclusion of all our undocumented students,” Edghill-Walden said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the DACA program on behalf of President Donald Trump Sept. 5. Acting President Lisa Freeman released a statement the same day voicing support for undocumented students.

“You belong at NIU,” Freeman wrote in a Sept. 5 university-wide message. “We want you here, and we are prepared to help you navigate how to continue on your educational journey. Continue to go to class. Refuse to let this action interfere with your goals.”

DREAM Action NIU, a student organization that raises awareness about the circumstances of undocumented students, has tried to provide emotional support to students and has encouraged them to visit different resources, including the Latino Resource Center, according to a Nov. 8 NIU press release.

“We have been offering our support by way of ensuring that students that feel like they need emotional support get it,” Edghill-Walden. “We have provided counseling services. They have also had the opportunity to connect with faculty and staff allies on campus that are also in support of them being on campus.”

DREAM Action NIU has represented the university at various rallies in Chicago, including one on the day of the announcement that DACA was being terminated.

“We helped make some of the banners for the Chicago Sept. 5 rally that actually blocked up the streets for a couple hours,” said Laura Vivaldo Cholula, DREAM Action NIU co-president.

DREAM Action’s primary function over the past several months has been to help DACA students understand the program with a pair of workshops, including one on Jan. 27 responding to court rulings allowing a number of renewals.

DREAM Action is also providing DACA recipients the chance to work with immigration lawyer Jeremy Lime, who is offering his services for free. The organization has also been raising funds to cover the DACA renewal cost and have assisted four people in renewing their DACA status.

“We have been trying to work with our networks and help fundraising for students and community members to renew,” Vivaldo Cholula said. “It’s $495 to renew, and things change so quickly that people don’t automatically have that money saved. We try to alleviate the financial burden, plus the stress of not knowing where they are going to adopt the application and being able to get an immigration attorney to help with that.”

DACA students are not eligible for federal and state loans and grants, so they must rely on scholarships and institutional aid to get assistance in paying for college.

University officials have tried to support the undocumented population financially through donations toward scholarships.

“We have been working with the NIU Foundation to look for ways to raise funds from private citizens and donors so our undocumented students are able to get scholarships,” Edghill-Walden said.

There has been work done by other on-campus groups to support undocumented students. The Student Association Senate passed legislation during a Nov. 19 meeting to allow undocumented students to run for positions in the Senate. Previously, a social security number was required to join, which international students or undocumented students don’t often have.

Christine Wang, Student Association Senate speaker, said she thinks it’s important for student-run groups to support their fellow colleagues.

“They are students,” Wang said. “I think it’s important to support our fellow students. They’re Huskies just like us.”

University officials have also been involved in talks with other universities and national higher education programs to advocate for legislation at a federal level that would protect DACA recipients, Edghill-Walden said.

“National higher education organizations … have been advocating on the federal level and have been asking presidents across the country to endorse their support for ensuring that undocumented students are supported and are part of our institutions,” Edghill-Walden said.

Edghill-Walden named the American Council on Education and the Association of Public and Land-grants Universities as two groups the university has been in contact with concerning undocumented students advocacy. Illinois ranks third with 42,376 DACA recipients behind California and Texas, according to the American Council on Education webpage.

The closer the deadline appears for lawmakers, the more it’s been discussed in Washington D.C. Trump’s State of the Union Address Jan. 30 looked to encourage lawmakers to come to a compromise to help DACA recipients.

Trump said his plan for immigration will include a wall on the border of Mexico and the U.S. and granting legal status and citizenship for 1.8 million currently unauthorized immigrants.

“Tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties…to protect our citizens,” Trump said in his Jan. 30 State of the Union Address. “My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.”

Edghill-Walden declined to comment on Trump’s statement from the State of the Union address.

“Our students, all of our students, are amazing and talented regardless of immigration status,” Edghill-Walden said. “All of our students deserve an opportunity to change their personal lives, as well as the community and the state.”