University Leadership Initiative

Immigrants’ rights organization University Leadership Initiative hosted a counsel session Saturday at Austin Community College-Eastview for undocumented students reapplying to a federal, deferred-action program that gives undocumented youth temporary lawful presence in the U.S.

In June 2012, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is a two-year program that permits work authorization and prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 who meet certain requirements. According to the University Leadership Initiative, 400 undocumented students at the University could be eligible for deferred action.

For undocumented youth who received deferred action in 2012, the grant will expire this summer, meaning many will have to reapply. Radio-television-film junior Sheridan Lagunas has worked with the University Leadership Initiative and the teachers’ union Education Austin to provide three sessions this summer that will provide applicants with free attorney services. Lagunas said attorneys review the applications for mistakes or missing documents.

“It’s important to have those free attorney resources to check if everything is right because there’s no appeal process with this application,” Lagunas said. 

Lagunas said the University Leadership Initiative hopes to help 90 undocumented immigrants with the reapplication process through legal counsel sessions and another 90 people through information sessions throughout the summer.

Lagunas, who arrived in the U.S. at the age of one, will reapply for deferred action in July. He said receiving work authorization has made attending a university more accessible for him and other undocumented students.

“Undocumented students aren’t eligible for federal grants or federal loans,” Lagunas said. “But with DACA, I’m able to work and support myself, whereas I know people in the past have had more trouble with college.”

According to Lagunas, many of the applicants have been high school students, such as Jose Garibay, a senior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. Garibay said he hopes to attend the University and graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering. After receiving deferred action his sophomore year of high school, Garibay said he thought he could aspire to have a professional career.

“Before I got DACA, I didn’t think about my future that much,” Garibay said. “I just wanted to get to college. But knowing that I can get a job thanks to DACA, I started finally thinking what I wanted my career to be.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security website, the deferred action program does not change a person’s status and does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship. Lourdes Diaz, an administrator at the Immigration Clinic, said the deferred action program is a temporary solution to a larger problem.

“Some people don’t qualify, and some people who have submitted the application do not end up getting DACA. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has the option to terminate or renew DACA whenever they would like,” Diaz said. “This program is patching a very large wound in immigration reform with a small Band-Aid.”

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The University Leadership Initiative held a rally Wednesday in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the East Mall to show support for immigrants who have been deported.

Rally representatives said the ideals of the Civil Rights Summit do not align with current U.S. policy toward undocumented immigrants. Students involved in the rally held a number of signs, one of which said “we have a dream 2,” and chained themselves to the statue.

Rhetoric and writing sophomore Maria Reza said the group gathered because it believes the discussions at the summit need to better acknowledge the rights of undocumented immigrants.

“As we talk right now, families are being separated — deportations are happening,” Reza said

In 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security commonly known as ICE, announced the U.S. had deported a total of 409,849 immigrants — the largest number in the agency’s history. 

Engineering sophomore Juan Belman, who said his father is at risk of deportation, said Austin needs to show support for families who have to deal with deportation.

“If we are a progressive community here in Austin, we need to show that,” Belman said. “We need to show Texas how to move forward.”

According to ICE, 2,614 people were deported from Travis County jails in 2012, which is roughly 19 per week, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman. ICE also reported that 85 percent of the non-criminal deportations in 2013 were individuals attempting to enter the U.S. unlawfully. 

Approximately 40 people attended the rally, and the group led a series of chants, such as “we have nothing to lose but our chains,” and “it is our duty to fight for our freedom.” Members of the organization also read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech aloud. Three UTPD officers were also present.

The Travis County Democratic Party supported the University Leadership Initiative’s event and are in the process of passing a resolution opposing Travis County’s cooperation with the Secure Communities program, which is designed to identify undocumented immigrants in American jails that are subject to deportation.

The party’s communication director Joe Deshotel said his organization fully supports the families of deported immigrants.

“We are particularly concerned about those families that are being torn apart and the children of undocumented immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling and their parents’ deportation,” Deshotel said.

Students chant in front of Littlefield fountain Friday afternoon in celebration of President Obama’s executive order to halt the deportation of young immigrants and allow those who met certain criteria to apply for work permits.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

On Thursday, UT graduate Daniel Olvera would not have been able to apply for a high school job teaching social studies because of his undocumented status. Today, it is a different story.

President Barack Obama made an executive order Friday morning halting the deportation of young immigrants if they came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and lack a criminal history. The executive order also allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a two-year work permit if they meet the above requirements and are under the age of 30.

“This is relief; it is something that will grant release to nearly one million students who are undocumented right now,” Olvera said.

“Dreamers,” a term people who support the DREAM Act use to describe themselves, and members of University Leadership Initiative gathered in front of the Littlefield fountain Friday, chanting, shouting and holding up signs in celebration and support of Obama’s recent executive order. The University Leadership Initiative is a UT organization that advocates for the DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. At the celebration, many members said while they are happy for the executive order, they will continue to push for the DREAM Act.

Obama has supported the DREAM Act since he was a senator. In December 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act but failed to pass 60 votes in the Senate.

In a statement Friday, Obama said his action was targeted to young people who study in U.S. schools. The president said his executive order would go into effect immediately but was not a pathway to citizenship.

“This is not amnesty, this is not immunity,” Obama said. “This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry released a statement after Obama’s announcement calling the move an “election-year tactic.”

“The laws of this nation are not open to selective, convenient or political interpretation; they are the very foundation of our freedom, and the protections they guarantee make our nation strong and attractive to immigrants around the world — millions of whom abide by our laws and processes and seek legal entry,” Perry said in his statement. “These are decisions that should be thoroughly debated within the halls of Congress.

But Olvera said Obama’s action was not a political move but something he did because it was the right thing to do.

“This is something that happened because of the push and because of the activism of the youth movement nationwide,” Olvera said. “And we managed to make sure President Obama granted us relief before the re-election. If this was a political move, he would have promised to do it after the election, but he did it beforehand.”

Spanish senior Jonathan Hernandez, who is also undocumented, said the University Leadership Initiative will continue to support and push for the DREAM Act.

“This is only the first step,” Hernandez said. “Obama did give us permission to work and he did stop the deportations, but like he said, this is not a pathway to citizenship, which is what we want in the end.”

Hernandez said Dreamers will take advantage of this executive order and prove they can contribute to the country. He said the president’s action was especially important to immigrants who have already graduated.

“They will be able to practice their careers; they will be able to practice what they spent so much time studying here at UT,” Hernandez said. “It’s amazing for all of us. Not just though for us at UT but for future generations who are going to come.”

Alfredo Galvan, a undocumented high school senior, said he was glad Obama took action in support of the Dreamers.

“I can finally get a job. I can graduate from college and not hit a brick wall,” Galvan said. “I can put my degree to work.

Daniel Olvera, President of the University Leadership Initiative (UIL) student organization, speaks to a group of students at a panel meeting addressing the DREAM Act and controversial issues in the immigration system.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

The future of 600 undocumented students at UT remains in the hands of the national political system despite efforts to lobby for their naturalization by those who will be affected by any type of immigration reform.

Members of the University Leadership Initiative discussed the shift in political perspective of immigration and the progress that has been made towards successful reform through laws like the DREAM Act during a panel sponsored by Senior Fellows, the College of Communication’s honors program.

University Leadership Initiative, a student organization made up primarily of undocumented students, works to push for political support of a law that would put them on the road to becoming citizens.

House Bill 1403, the law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition in Texas, passed April 2001 with only two votes against it. Daniel Olvera, government senior and president of the ULI, said the passing of the bill was a step forward for immigrants, but social regard for immigration has changed for the worse since 9/11.

Olvera said he crossed the border from Mexico into what he now calls his country when he was 11 years old.

“The current political system has impacted undocumented students’ ability to pursue higher education,” he said. “We want to foster equality, and the solution is comprehensive immigration reform.”

The struggle for a good education begins after high school graduation for most undocumented students, said government junior Adrian Reyna.

Before coming to UT, Reyna applied to MIT and was waitlisted until he could prove he had the financial ability to pay for tuition at an international rate, he said. He was eventually denied the chance to attend.

“It’s important to shine a light on the narrative end of this struggle,” he said. “We hope our stories motivate others to make a difference — not just for the 600 undocumented students at UT or the 1600 students in Texas, but for the millions of individuals in the same situation.”

The immigration system is broken when 2.2 million individuals brought here as children are charged with breaking a law, said Ainee Athar, international relations senior.

Athar moved from Pakistan to the United States when she was two. Her parents were detained after a lawyer made a mistake in their asylum form.

“We need to introduce comprehensive immigration reform, but we know it will take the same political capital that it took to pass health care reform,” she said.

Athar said the Obama administration has been supportive of the struggles of undocumented immigrants, but the impending election is a serious concern to ULI. She said politicians are supporting “self-deportation” as a means for getting undocumented immigrants out of the country, claiming that if they make staying here difficult enough they will simply leave.

“When the word ‘self-deportation’ is thrown around by presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the idea of denying basic rights to individuals becomes terrifying,” she said.

Kinesiology senior Griselda Onofre and her friends hold candles in front of the Tower Monday evening in remembrance of Joaquin Luna, Jr., a high school senior who committed suicide Friday. The University Leadership Initiative, a UT organization dedicated to the passage of the Dream Act, held the event to support Luna’s family and other undocumented students around the nation.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Journalism sophomore Hector Gaucin said many undocumented students at UT have felt the same despair as Joaquin Luna Jr., a high school senior who committed suicide Nov. 25. Luna suffered from what his family said was depression stemming from the non-passage of the DREAM Act.

Gaucin is campus relations co-director for the University Leadership Initiative, a campus organization dedicated to promoting the passage of the DREAM Act, a document aiming to help provide amnesty to undocumented students. The organization held a candlelight vigil at the Tower on Monday in support of Luna. At the vigil, a crowd of 30 people sang songs of support, said prayers and held signs that said, “Yo soy Joaquin. We are Joaquin.”

“In some way, most of us are Joaquin,” Gaucin said. “We have all faced and had hard times through high school or college. This is to show high school or college dreamers that there is a support system here for them.”

Clinical professor of law Barbara Hines said current immigration laws allow students such as Luna to acquire an education but leave them without a career path in their field of study as they would be considered illegal workers. She said the world would be different with the passage of the DREAM Act, a law that would create a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who complete two years of service in the military or at least two years at a four-year institution of higher learning.

“It would be a fundamental and important change,” Hines said. “Many DREAM students have already graduated. We would have more nurses and engineers. It would be a benefit not only to the students but to our country.”

Feelings of isolation are something Hines said she often sees in her work with undocumented students.

“For some of them, it’s very hopeless,” Hines said. “I have great admiration for them to carry on.”

Journalism sophomore Juana Guzman, campus relations co-director for the University Leadership Initiative, said undocumented students like herself were hard-hit by the death of the aspiring engineer whose family received notice of his acceptance to UT-Pan American the same day as his funeral on Dec. 1.

“As part of ULI, we focus on reaching out to undocumented students,” Guzman said. “The fact that he was an undocumented student hit us very hard, but to know his hopelessness doubled that pain. We want everyone to know that we are not alone.”

Spanish sophomore Jonathan Hernandez said he and his undocumented classmates had to keep fighting for the DREAM Act although they face challenges.

“Let’s not give up,” Hernandez said. “Let’s not give up. Let’s take that hope and make it a reality. There are so many things to fight for — your friends, your family, your own dreams. Let’s keep fighting.”

Journalism freshman Jonathan Espinoza said stories like Luna’s are what made him come to the vigil and support the DREAM Act, although he is a legal citizen.

“It’s crazy as I read through history how people have shed blood and have been through high water to get here,” Espinoza said. “Years from now, I want to tell my children I was here and tell them I was fighting for equality and what’s right.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: Students dismayed by DREAM rejection