Not From There: The undocumented series part one


Mindy, an undocumented student at NIU, poses in a Reavis Hall classroom. At least 213 undocumented students go to NIU, according to data from a Freedom of Information Act request.

By Keith Hernandez

Editor’s note: “Not From There” is a four-part series in which undocumented students at NIU shed light on their struggles, successes and fears in the wake of a presidential administration that has threatened to take away renewable protections that allow tens of thousands of undocumented students to avoid the possibility of deportation for two years and deny federal funding to sanctuary cities—cities that do not report arrests of undocumented immigrants to federal officials, depending on the severity of the crime.

The first part will introduce Mindy, an undocumented student who said she struggled with her secret until she came out at NIU and is rethinking her educational pursuits due to the growing anti-immigration ideology in the U.S.


The name of “Mindy” has been changed to protect the person’s identity.

DeKALB — Mindy said she often wonders if the life she studies and works full-time for is worth the effort when it can be taken away at any moment.

She said she once envisioned herself as a director of a nonprofit organization and later as a public official for the City of DeKalb, bridging the gap between local government and the Latino community, but hasn’t foreseen much since Donald Trump was elected in November with a promise to dismantle protections for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, among other assurances. Her indecision comes down to a secret she and at least 213 NIU students, according to data from a Freedom of Information Act request, have held at one point in their lives.

Mindy is “not from here, not from there,” DREAM Action advisor Sandy Lopez said, meaning Mindy was born in Mexico and grew up in the U.S. The phrase in this case does not just refer to her growing up in a world apart from the one her parents knew but the socioeconomic and legal ramifications of her status as an undocumented student.

Until high school, where Mindy slowly started to use the term “undocumented” instead of “illegal” after meeting others in similar situations, she said she thought she was alone with her secret.

“The action is illegal, but the person is not,” Mindy said. “You have to know the issues better than anybody else. I think for me, it was really difficult to understand in the beginning because I didn’t know there was anyone else like me or that my experiences even mattered.”

Her secret, though protected in part by Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can have repercussions for her family and job, she said. Because of that risk, she wished to remain anonymous.

To do without DACA

Mindy said the fear of deportation was constant while growing up in DeKalb.

“When it came to lashing out or being rebellious during my teens, my parents would tell me, ‘You cannot get into trouble ever because if you do, we’re going to get deported,’” Mindy said. “So I was always on my best behavior all the time, and so, I mean, that was good, but at the same time… a lot of undocumented students have anxiety because you have no idea how to cope with things. And so growing up, it’s like, ‘Okay, I have to be perfect here, and I’m supposed to be perfect there,’ and it’s like, how the hell am I supposed to cope with that?”

More than 750,000 undocumented immigrants were approved for protection under DACA in 2016, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Deportation is deferred for two years for those who have been approved, though the law does not grant legal status, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Lopez said what makes her feel most uneasy is that DACA was birthed as an executive order by former President Barack Obama and therefore can be reversed by Trump at any time—an action he alluded to during his campaign. Obama oversaw the deportation of 2.8 million undocumented immigrants from 2009 to 2015, compared to the 2 to 3 million deportations promised by Trump, according to the Pew Research Center.

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office adheres to Immigration Customs Enforcement, Chief Deputy Andrew Sullivan said, which means federal immigration officials are notified when an undocumented immigrant is arrested.

NIU released a statement Jan. 30 reaffirming that deportation enforcement is generally the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement but did not specify whether or not it would report detained undocumented students to federal officials.

NIU and DeKalb police did not return requests for information on their handling of laws regarding immigration.

Lopez said things would go back to the way they were for students without deferred action, but the people and opinions surrounding the issue have changed.

“They’ve lived [the undocumented life],” Lopez said. “They did it without DACA. They just didn’t do it with this much hate and this much opposition.”

James Cohen, an NIU assistant professor in literacy education whose research focus includes undocumented immigrants, said he had never witnessed as much dog-whistling–a political mode of speaking that means one thing to a larger group but something different to a subset of that group–as what he saw on the 2016 campaign trail.

“Newt Gingrich, [former Speaker of the House,] for example, he called Obama, ‘that boy in the White House,’” Cohen said. “When you use terminology like that, instead of saying ‘that ‘N’ word in the White House,’ he called him ‘that boy,’ and people who understand dog-whistling understand exactly what he was referring to. I have not seen a major party candidate in my lifetime use rhetoric as racist, misogynistic, homophobic [and] hateful as this president.”

Almost 80 percent of Americans in 2014 said it was “extremely” or “very important” for the U.S. to stop the entry of undocumented immigrants, though 7 percent in 2015 said it is the most important issue facing the country, according to surveys conducted by Gallup.

The reveal

It wasn’t until Mindy turned 18 that she came out publicly as undocumented at a rally where undocumented individuals were encouraged to declare their statuses.

“I was really scared that by me disclosing that one time that it was going to affect me and that my scholarships were going to get taken away,” Mindy said. “But, like for me, I think you feel a little bit hopeful because by disclosing, like if I can’t get further help where I’m at, I’m at least reaching somebody else that’s terrified of coming out and doesn’t know what to do.”

Undocumented students cannot receive federal or state financial aid but can receive private scholarships.

Mindy did not lose her scholarships for coming out at the rally; however, she said she is going to have to make a decision soon regarding dropping out of university and getting a second job to save enough money if she has to relocate to Mexico.

Lopez, advisor for NIU DREAM Action, said all students need to band together now more than ever, citing executive orders signed by President Trump on Jan. 24 that include a ban on incoming travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and the dismantling of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Acts.

Following the enactment of the order, NIU President Doug Baker declared that NIU is not a sanctuary campus.

“It sucks, and I cry because–I always say this–I don’t cry because I’m weak; I cry because I’m pissed,” Lopez said. “I’m pissed that we’re here again; it hasn’t changed.”