#FocusImmigration: University’s ‘Latina Day’ Sheds Light on Undocumented Students

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Published April 7, 2019
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The Montclarion
Erica Martinez (left) and Maria Del Cielo Mendez Varillas (right) speak about the Dream and Promise Act. Emely Alba | The Montclarion

A group of “Dreamer” activists from Saint Peter’s University, including an undocumented immigrant student, came to Montclair State University to discuss a special center for undocumented students at their school.

The activists primarily discussed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is an immigration policy that protects undocumented youth from deportation and provides them with work permits.

President of the Latino Caucus and Assistant Director of the Educational Opportunity Fund Carmen Reyes Cuevas is the creator of Latina Day and wanted to address this topic of immigration.

“The [immigration] committee decided that this was a good topic for us to address, and there were a lot of women in the panel,” Cuevas said. “Something that our students and staff should become aware of is that we have DACA students on campus, and we just want to make sure that we are informed so that we can help those students.”

Featured speaker and Saint Peter’s freshman Maria Del Cielo Mendez Varillas spoke about her experience as a DACA recipient and the struggles of having to campaign.

“I went to the office of Congressman Lance the day after DACA was rescinded and I told him, ‘I need you to stand up for me,’ and he said something sort of along the lines that I didn’t matter,” Varillas said. “I’ve gotten picked up to go to those rallies and even my Uber Drivers were like, ‘Do you think anything is going to actually come out of that?’ It’s just like people really doubt their own community power.”

Maria Del Cielo Mendez Varillas talks about campaigning for DACA.
Emely Alba | The Montclarion

Varillas continued, speaking about how the Saint Peter’s center for undocumented students has supported her.

“When we went to Saint Peter’s, we went to talk about youth activism for ‘Make the Road,’ and we fell in love because we never found the space that was catered to us,” Varillas said. “We never had someone make a space for us and where we felt comfortably represented.”

According to maketheroadnj.org, the organization is an activist group that leads working-class immigrants through community, legal, transformative education and policy innovations.

Another featured speaker who is also a first-year student at Saint Peter’s is Erika Martinez, who feels the center for undocumented students on her campus is just very reassuring.

“Whenever we have meetings, we always talk about what’s going on and we keep each other updated on actions, [such as] if someone’s doing a sit-in or someone’s doing a march,” Martinez said.

Unlike Saint Peter’s, Montclair State does not currently have an undocumented student center.

As a result of hearing about Saint Peter’s undocumented center, Cuevas thinks that a center for undocumented students at Montclair State would create some sort of guidance for undocumented students.

“I’m hoping that we can have some type of committee because we need to get the word out,” Cuevas said. “I think [with] those [undocumented] students, a lot of them don’t get a lot of information.”

She continued saying that undocumented students should be given guidance through the application process so they do not get discouraged.

People who attended the Latina Day event were inspired by intentions and actions of the activists from Saint Peter’s University.

Erika Martinez (left) and Maria Del Cielo Mendez Varillas (right) talk about how the Dream and Promise Act is the most inclusive for DACA recipients.
Emely Alba | The Montclarion

Freshman business administration major Adonis Taveras thought Latina Day was overall educational and inspiring.

“By having events like Latina Day, students and parents can educate themselves about different opportunities offered to them and learn how to take advantage of the different resources,” Taveras said. “Regarding the three girls presenting, I commend them for what they do. They are very strong, relatable to a lot of people and very inspiring.”

Taveras continued, saying that a center for undocumented students here at Montclair State would be a great idea.

“I don’t know what types of programs Montclair [State] offers for undocumented students,” Taveras said. “But having a center for undocumented students at Montclair [State], where they can come and talk and educate themselves on the different opportunities offered to them would be beneficial for a lot of students.”

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