Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago has a history of welcoming immigrant students. Now it is trying to become a model in offering services to undocumented students.
The university currently has 293 self-identified undocumented students, though the number actual number is probably much higher, according to Daniel Lopez, vice president for student affairs.
Speaking on GLT's Sound Ideas, Lopez said his university is the first state school to fund a position for a full-time administrator who oversees services to undocumented students.
Lopez, along with Luvia Moreno, director of Northeastern Illinois’ office of Undocumented Student Resources, will speak at an all-day workshop Friday, sponsored by Illinois State University’s Committee to Assist Undocumented Student Achievement (CAUSA).
Illinois State officials estimate they have at least 100 undocumented students enrolled.
Northeastern Illinois “was always a place where people in the community of higher education would send undocumented students,” Lopez said.
The university charged in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduate from state high schools, even before that became a state law in the early 2000s.
Lopez said the role of the Director of Undocumented Student Resources is to assist those students in navigating the college experience from admission to graduation. “To make sure these students have the information they need to be successful," he said.
Northeastern Illinois also developed a training program to educate faculty and staff of the needs and challenges undocumented students face.
Lopez said the university wanted to insure all faculty and staff know what resources are available to undocumented students. For instance, neither federal nor state tuition aid is available, but undocumented students might qualify for certain scholarships or private financial assistance.
“Once they are trained, (faculty and staff) are able to answer questions without having to send students from department to department,” Lopez said.
Lopez said it is sometimes hard to reach undocumented students because many want to conceal their immigration status.
“In many institutions, students still don’t feel comfortable sharing their undocumented status. Because of that, they don’t ask right questions or talk to right people, so they may stop out or drop out,” he said.
“They might not be making progress toward their degree because they are not fully utilizing university services because they don’t know about them,” he added.
Lopez said he was heartened by a San Francisco U.S. District Court judge's recent decision preventing the Trump administration from rescinding the Obama administration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
That policy offers temporary legal status to so-called “Dreamers,” young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, and have lived most of their lives here.
DACA allows those immigrants to study and work legally in the U.S. The Trump administration last year rescinded the policy and left it to Congress to come up with a permanent solution for the estimated 800,000 DACA recipients.
The president met this week with members of both parties in Congress, but the two sides seemed far from reaching an agreement.
The president has signaled he would keep DACA if Democrats agree to funding a border wall and increasing the number of border patrol agents.
Lopez said the San Francisco judge’s ruling is a step in the right direction.
"Otherwise, if DACA goes away, they will not be able to work and pay for their schooling,” he said.
Even if DACA remains federal policy, Lopez said he hopes both the Trump administration and Congress will continue to work toward comprehensive immigration reform.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.