Why the students of Loyola University Chicago are exactly who the world needs.
There are roughly 1.8 million young people who were brought to the United States as children and who continue to live here as undocumented citizens.
They call themselves DREAMers — a shout-out to the DREAM Act, a bill that if enacted would allow them to apply for legal status and, eventually, citizenship if they went to college or served in the military. Supporters have been trying to get the DREAM Act passed since 2001.
The students of Loyola University Chicago got tired of waiting for Congress to act.
So they decided to step up. If their undocumented peers wanted a Loyola education, they didn't want anything to stand in the way. In spring 2013, they passed a declaration that basically said just that:
It was a great start. But then they were all...
They wanted a way to deliver that support. Sure, it would cost money (more on that below), but they had some pretty great reasons to go for it.
1. Loyola University Chicago is a Jesuit school.
That means they're of the Society of Jesus, whose mission is “the service of faith and the promotion of justice." And Jesuit schools have a "storied history" of not being jerks to immigrants. Denying education to someone who can't afford it? Not the way of the Jesuit.
2. Loyola's staff — including the president — already agrees the university should do more for undocumented students.
In fact, Loyola Chicago's president, Rev. Michael Garanzini, co-signed a letter in support of the DREAM Act with a whole group of university heads in Illinois.
3) Nationally, only 5%-10% of undocumented high school graduates go to college.
Certainly it's not helpful that the federal government refuses them student aid, which is pretty low when you consider education is a globally recognized human right.
Again, remember that DREAMers were brought to the U.S. as children, and for all intents and purposes, the U.S. to them is home. It's just not a very welcoming one ... for now.
Gaby Pacheco, program director for TheDream.US, a scholarship program for undocumented youth, knows first hand how uncertain a higher education is for undocumented students:
"I'm a DREAMer. I went through high school preparing for college but knowing I might not be able to go."
Pacheco was lucky enough to attend college, but she knows a lot of folks who never got a fair chance at it. And she wants others who aren't undocumented to understand why this is also their challenge to overcome. "College is not cheap," Pacheco says, "not just for the undocumented, but for everyone."
Organizers with the Latin American Student Organization and the student government hustled all over campus giving dozens of classroom presentations. They also gathered over 750 signatures to get a question on their student government elections ballot that would make the anti-immigrant wing of Congress cringe (you know who you are):
“Do you approve of the addition of $2.50 each semester to the Student Development fee to support undocumented Loyola undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need but do not qualify for federal financial aid (FAFSA)?" (Read the full resolution.)
Wait ... only $2.50 per student per semester!?
According to Flavio Bravo, former student body president of Loyola Chicago, the fee is "essentially the equivalent of bus fare in Chicago." How could the cost of bus fare possibly make a difference?
Well, when you have 10,000 students chipping in, it can make a big difference. In one academic year, the fee alone would generate $50,000 in scholarship funds. And with donations from faculty, alumni, and other good-hearted people with money to give, the possibilities would be even greater.
On the day of the vote, the measure passed with 70% approval from student voters.
70%! (Holy geez, right?)
"Magis" (pronounced mey-jis) is Latin for "more" or "better."
This was an entirely student-led effort.
These young people prove to us that compassion can translate into meaningful change. It all started with just 15 students who believe human lives shouldn't be left in political limbo. And frankly, they give zero sh*ts about "citizenship" when it comes to doing the right thing.
"The Loyola students have done something amazing," says Don Graham, CEO of Graham Holdings Company and co-founder of TheDream.US. "DREAMers will be benefiting from their work for years. We hope other college students will be inspired to help DREAMers as well. The payoff will be huge."
So what's next?
Bravo says the fight's not over. They hope their work can help build momentum for smart immigration reform at the highest levels of government.
In the meanwhile, they want to replicate this initiative on campuses around the country. Adriana Robles, president of Loyola's Latin American Student Organization, is optimistic because she knows you don't have to be undocumented to identify with the struggle:
"Other students — particularly non-immigrant students — should work to model this initiative at their own schools. In one way or another, we all come from an immigrant background. It is up to us to advocate for our undocumented sisters and brothers who are more than deserving of a university education."
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