University Leadership Initiative

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s International Office was one of 72 institutions that “came out” Tuesday for the first National Institutions Coming Out Day, an effort to provide safe spaces for undocumented students.

The International Office and the University Leadership Initiative (ULI) — which participates in education advocacy intiatives for youths — hosted the event, which is planned to occur annually.

Linguistics senior Diana Morales, ULI’s Dream Education Empowerment Program coordinator, said many institutions have scarce resources for undocumented students, and educators aren’t always aware of the rights accorded to these students

“With NICOD, we are able to identify which institutions are ready to take a step forward and are interested to advocate with their students at the institutional level,” Morales said. “[We want to] challenge institutional policies and make sure that our undocumented brothers and sisters are able to feel comfortable in their own campuses, as many feel unsafe anywhere else because of the political climate or the fear of one day being deported and separated from their family.”

Morales said the International Office made commitments to participate in “National Educators Coming Out Day” in November and co-host a “Know Your Rights” training session for educators, so they can better assist students.

The ULI has had a long-standing relationship with the International Office, according to Meghan Merchant, program coordinator at the International Office. Merchant said the International Office demonstrated support for undocumented students by showing a film screening of the short documentary “Living Undocumented.”

“Other ways [of supporting ULI] include maintaining the Longhorn Dreamers Project website, supporting Undocumented Longhorns Week and having a special orientation in the summer for new undocumented students to connect them with campus resources,” Merchant said.

Rhetoric and writing junior Maria Reza, United We Dream officer for ULI, said she enjoyed seeing the diversity in the documentary “Living
Undocumented.”

“Immigration is not just a Mexican issue; it’s not just an issue for Latinos. … It’s a global issue,” Reza said. “That’s something to always keep in mind — you should never assume that someone’s undocumented based on what they look like or how they speak.”

Reza said she is an advocate of ending the use of the term “illegals” in reference to undocumented immigrants. 

“Even if they don’t mean it, it’s just — words hurt, right?” Reza said. “We kind of prefer ‘undocumented. If you don’t like ‘undocumented,’ ‘unauthorized.’ If you don’t like ‘unauthorized,’ just my name is good.”

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.”

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.

UT and Texas A&M have long been rivals on the athletic field, and now a group of UT students have established a political rivalry as well.

Members of the University Leadership Initiative, a UT student group, are condemning a petition that seeks to limit funding for undocumented students circulated by the A&M student organization, the Texas Aggie Conservatives.

Students with undocumented Texas residency receive funding under a current law once the student proves he or she has graduated from a Texas high school, maintained state residency for at least three years and pledged to change their legal status once eligible to do so.

The petition proposed by the Texas Aggie Conservatives aims to prevent undocumented students from receiving funding for higher education, said ULI member and anthropology and international relations junior Ainee Athar.

“During the last state legislative session, ULI spent months combating dozens of bills that would deny undocumented students equal access to a higher education,” Athar said. “We did this because thousands of young people, who are not responsible for the circumstances of their migration, get into college on their own merit and deserve the same accommodations as any other student.”

The petition to destroy the bill has received more than 300 signatures as of Wednesday morning, Aggie Conservatives chairman Steven Schroeder said. The students’ goal is 1,000 signatures by the end of the week, he said. Schroeder said Texas taxpayers should not be forced to set aside money for undocumented adults who cannot work in this country legally.

“This is not about who goes to college,” Schroeder said. “This is simply about who pays the bill. [Supporters of the bill] believe illegal immigrants are entitled to reduced tuition, which is ridiculous. It is not mean spirited to say that adults breaking the law should not be rewarded with a free ride or reduced tuition.”

International students and American citizens pay $15,000 more each year than the undocumented students who attend A&M, he said.

Athar said she is an undocumented student, and if it was not for the bill, it would be a lot tougher to get funding for her education. There are 15,000 undocumented students in Texas that are in college because of the funding provided through this bill, she said.

“The Aggie Conservatives want to leave thousands of people in a lurch for the sake of an ill-thought out publicity stunt, the premise of which is not even supported by Rick Perry,” Athar said.

Biology and art sophomore Lauren Ross said she supports the efforts made by ULI to save the bill and protect the funding for undocumented students.

“I think everyone deserves a good education,” Ross said.