APU and Cal Poly team up to raise awareness about undocumented students

The Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD) hosted a workshop on Monday entitled “Supporting Undocumented Students.” The workshop, which was joint-sponsored by Azusa Pacific and Cal Poly Pomona, featured guest speakers Mecir Ureta, coordinator for undocumented students at Cal Poly, and SCRD Intern Denise Torres.

The workshop aimed to provide information about undocumented students and the struggles they face as a means to educate APU students to be better allies.

“APU should have more knowledge and awareness to support these students,” Torres said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of talk about undocumented students on campus, and I’m hoping this [workshop] sparks something.”

Ureta and Torres handed out “#FactsMatter” fliers from Define America, which aimed to debunk a few common myths about immigration.

Many students at the workshop said they were surprised by the information given. This included facts about crime rates, social security and taxes. According to the flier, immigrants generally participate in crime less than native-born civilians, sometimes have social security cards for work and pay taxes.

Torres and Ureta took turns to explain the terminology surrounding immigration. They said immigration can fall into six fluid identities: undocumented students, AB-540 students, dreamers, Dream Act students, DACA or DACAmented students and the not “I” word, which calls people to avoid the word “illegal” when referring to undocumented people. Each identity was categorized as a social movement, state law title or federal law title

Ureta discussed his research, which included a three-part graph on historical immigration. The graph depicted three pie charts with the dates and percentage of immigration in America. The first was 1910, which had 13.4 percent immigration rate. The second was 1960 with 5.4 percent immigration rate and the last was 2010 with 12.9 percent immigration rate.

“How did this become negative? How did undocumented immigrants get demonized on the news?” Ureta asked. “[It’s] because we’re people of color. That’s unfortunate, but these are the numbers … it is what it is.”

Ureta and Torres explained the lengths undocumented students must go to in order to receive educational benefits. The security cards some undocumented people apply for are work-only. As such, using one to apply for FAFSA is illegal and can get some students in mounds of trouble if they try.

Because of this, Ureta said, some undocumented students rely solely on DACA to receive higher education. With the political climate leaning away from DACA support, Ureta said some students are fearful of how they will continue their education.

Although not all undocumented students are Latinx, Ureta and Torres focused on Latinx undocumented students as their primary examples, since this reflected their backgrounds and core research. According to Ureta, Cal Poly has a majority Latinx student population while APU has about 28.9 percent.

Torres said she tried to find out how many undocumented students apply to APU each year and how much financial compensation they receive as students, but found “no clear answer.” On the other hand, Cal Poly claims to house about 800 undocumented students.

“[That] should urge us to move towards that direction of finding those numbers so that we can better assess these students,” Torres said.

Torres said without these numbers, being able to help undocumented students becomes more difficult. She added that although Cal Poly’s statistics don’t match up with APU’s, higher education institutes need to be more aware of all their students and be willing to make changes to accommodate those in need.

“Cal Poly is one of the most diverse schools in the nation, and we’re still not there yet,” Ureta said. “With that said, we’ve made so much progress in the past eight years [to help undocumented students], and we’re really seeing the results.”

Ureta described how Cal Poly has bettered its relationship with its undocumented students through campus-wide ally training. This training educates faculty, staff and students about undocumented students and how to help them. Torres said implementing such a program on campus would be beneficial for APU students as well.

“This is always seen as extra work, like, ‘Oh, I can’t talk about social justice in class because it’s going to get in the way of the curriculum,’” Torres said. “But in a way, social justice is part of the curriculum.”

Many students said they support events like this to spread knowledge and awareness.

“I think it’s really good to combine education on this issue with support and an action plan,” said Mandy Deal, a junior English and sociology major. “As a white person in this conversation, it’s really important that I am very educated about this issue … so that I can be a better ally instead of not doing anything. Not doing anything is the worst thing you can do.”

Other students  said that even though an individual may not be undocumented, it is still important to know how to help each other.

“It’s important to uplift those who are most vulnerable in our student body,” said Bree Schricker, a senior social work major. “Being undocumented is a struggle I don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care. We should all care for our fellow students.”