Undocumented students say other Illinois universities are being more supportive than SIU


A poster hangs outside the pavilion at Gaia House on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, during a vigil held for DACA students. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Marnie Leonard

Though the administration has begun to put supports in place for undocumented students affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program that shielded them from deportation, some say SIU is lagging behind other Illinois universities.

“Since the undocumented body of students is smaller [here], the urgency is lower,” said Martha Osornio, an undocumented student and a senior studying cinema and photography from Chicago. “Other universities are all doing workshops and things to help their larger populations of undocumented students.”

There are 24 undergraduate and two graduate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients on campus, according to university officials.


The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, with a fall enrollment that is over three times that of SIU’s, doesn’t keep a specific number of total undocumented students, though the campus Latino resource center, La Casa Cultural, sees about 50 to 60 DACA students during a semester, according to center director Gioconda Perez.

The University of Illinois system’s flagship campus has a website dedicated to providing resources for undocumented students, open.illinois.edu. Here, students can find information about what DACA is; who it includes; frequent student concerns; information for faculty, staff, students and community allies; legislation related to immigration; and places on campus for students to go to seek support.

SIU doesn’t have a dedicated website, but on the dean of students website, http://dos.siu.edu/, students can find information about DACA renewals.

Jennifer Jones-Hall, SIU’s dean of students, said the Hispanic/Latino Resource Center is working on creating a webpage with an updated list of resources for undocumented students.

She said the university is also planning to host an online seminar Sept. 26 for the campus community to learn how to support DACA students.

UIUC also has ally trainings for members of its campus who want to know more about DACA and learn how to better support undocumented students, Perez said.

Perez said the training is for faculty, staff, students and campus departments, and it ranges from one and a half to three hours long. Since beginning the workshops in 2015, she said they have taught 300 people about undocumented students.


They also invite undocumented students to sit on panels to tell their stories to the campus and community, Perez said.

“It helps to educate other students about the realities of our undocumented students,” Perez said. “We want to eliminate the misconceptions out there about who they are.”

Perez said the university also hosts “know your rights” workshops for the community in which immigration experts are brought on campus to provide information about what undocumented immigrants are entitled to.

The center is also working on vocalizing its support for immigration legislation that would benefit undocumented students and making sure any student who needs to renew their DACA permit has the ability to do so.

“We are where we are because the students have voiced their concerns loudly and clearly,” Perez said. “We are doing what we are supposed to do — helping them when they have asked for help.”

SIU held a meeting Sept. 13 for undocumented students to provide them with information about where they can go on campus to seek support, Jones-Hall said.

She said during that meeting it was emphasized that students in need of information or support can go to either Counseling and Psychological Services or the office of Hispanic/Latino Resource Center Coordinator René Poitevin, whom she said will be the university’s DACA point person.

DACA student Jonathan Ramirez attended the meeting, and said the administration is trying but he thinks undocumented students need more encouragement.

“What can you say?” Ramirez, a senior from Chicago studying industrial management, said. “I can’t work without DACA, so why am I going to continue spending the limited resources I have continuing my education if I don’t know for sure I’m legally going to be able to work? What’s keeping me here? I would’ve liked someone to tell us to keep doing what we’re doing, to not stress and keep going to school.”

Ramirez said the meeting didn’t tell the 16 undocumented students in attendance anything they didn’t already know.

DACA beneficiary Oneida Vargas, a junior studying political science from Chicago, said the university could help students to pay for their education by providing them a list of scholarships that undocumented students are eligible for, or even creating funds specifically for DACA students.

Vargas pointed to schools like Loyola University Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University, which both have internal scholarships to specifically help DACA students pay for their education, as undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive state or federal financial aid.

“[These universities] have either formed a department designated for undocumented students and/or have a scholarships available,” Vargas said. “I don’t think SIUC is doing this because they don’t believe we have support from the students, alumni, and/or donors to fully commit to helping out undocumented students.”  

Jones-Hall said the university has not looked at creating a scholarship or fund for undocumented students, but the Office of the Associate Chancellor for Diversity has scholarships that undocumented students are eligible for. She said a list of scholarships for DACA students will soon be included in a DACA “tip sheet” online.

She said the university has tried to be as helpful and available as possible, but she thinks part of the problem is that students aren’t sure what to ask.

“We are available as a resource, it’s just a matter of whether they want to take advantage,” she said.“I think the other thing is students are very concerned, but they don’t necessarily know what questions to ask since it’s so up in the air right now. That’s a bit of the struggle for them right now.”

At Illinois State University, a committee exists to support undocumented students and their families called Committee Assisting Undocumented Student Achievement. This group consists of students, faculty and staff that seek to raise awareness and educate the campus about DACA, according to its website.

Beth Hatt, an ISU professor in the education department and the group’s founder, said it started in 2016 because there was no institutional support for DACA students.

“All that I can say it, they are more aware than what they used to be, but in terms of having a good support network, I would say we don’t have one,” Hatt said.

Because of CAUSA’s advocacy, Hatt said ISU has designated an admissions counselor and a financial aid scholarship counselor specifically for DACA students, two positions SIU does not currently have.

Hatt said the two most important things a university can do for its undocumented students are to provide a specific person on campus they can go to for any and all concerns regarding their legal status, and to provide some form of legal support.

The committee partners with the local Immigration Project to host “know your rights” workshops for undocumented students on campus. ISU also provides a website with legal and financial resources for DACA students, as well as a page dedicated to debunking immigration myths.

“Something universities don’t really understand is that a lot of undocumented students are experiencing trauma,” Hatt said. “If we had other groups of students we knew were experiencing trauma, we would put special supports in place … Just like we put supports in place for students who experience sexual assault. It’s a small number of students on campus but we put those supports in place because we know they need them.”

Jones-Hall said she has tried to look at other universities for programs and resources to provide SIU’s undocumented students, but she said the problem is that larger universities have more resources than SIU.

“I’m looking at big institutions, U of I, Indiana University, Purdue, you name it,” Jones-Hall said. “They have more resources, more staff members than we do, but I’m just trying to garner ideas … We’re doing everything we can.”

Vargas said although the university tried to reassure DACA students during last week’s meeting, she isn’t convinced anything is taking place beyond those reassurances.

“There has been more acknowledgement of undocumented students coming from the university and faculty,” Vargas said. “While I think that is great, besides the meetings held by Dr. Rene, there haven’t really been any actions taking place … We need more support than that.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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