American Word Logo An American University student-run magazine since 1999

Immigrant Voices Speak Out on Campus

DACAmented student panelists on navigating the U.S. immigration system

By Belén Bonilla | 11/13/17 7:00am | Updated 11/14/17 6:54pm
Pablo Images / American Word Magazine

*Students’ full names are protected due to varied immigrant statuses

On Tuesday night, the Battelle Atrium was made a safe space for undocumented immigrant student panelists* to share their hopes, fears and present realities navigating the U.S. immigration system.


Moderated by Angela Gonzalez, Host Homes Program Manager at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) and organized by Marcy Campos, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service at AU, this was the panel’s third year being facilitated.


With President Donald Trump’s recent executive order to rescind DACA – the Obama-era program protecting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children – student panelists were presented with an especially relevant stake in the discussion: their futures.


Tatiana, a DACAmented student panelist from the University of Maryland, was troubled by President Trump’s decision to leave DACA’s future in Congress’ hands.


“I remember sitting on election day and feeling so anxious because I had no say, yet knowing I’d be one of the ones affected the most,” Tatiana said. “At this point, even if DACA gets approved, there are others at risk for deportation, especially in mixed status homes.”


In considering their future in the United States, many panelists reflected on their pasts – remembering what it took to move to a new country in the first place.


“It was hard to find friends,” Daisy, a student panelist from the University of the District of Columbia, said. “I cried on my first day of school in the U.S. because all of the students around me were speaking English, and I couldn’t understand them.”


Other panelists related to Daisy’s experience. “It’s going through this whole process,” Tatiana said. “You’re not just learning the educational stuff, you’re learning the entire system. I had to rely on other people. I had to humble myself and let others explain to me how things work.”


Adjusting to new school environments and learning English were just a couple of the obstacles panelists had faced. When asked about what motivates them to overcome the challenges they confront daily as undocumented immigrants, student panelists had a unified answer – family.


“I’m the oldest of four siblings, and I have to set the example,” Tatiana said. “Everything I do even now is for them. They are my motivation. They are the reason I overcame every obstacle.”


For Daisy, it is honoring her late grandmother that motivates her to overcome challenges like discrimination and bullying in school. “I promised my grandmother I’d never give up. I promised her I’d fight to make my dreams a reality,” Daisy said.


Student panelists reminded the audience that everyone has a role to play in supporting immigrant communities – including professors. “Professors, get to know your students,” Tatiana said. “You can teach students to be inclusive. Talk to people. Check your biases. Be cautious of how your language can affect someone’s mental health.”


Kathryn, a student panelist from Prince George’s Community College and an immigrant from San Salvador, offered advice to AU students wanting to serve as allies for the immigrant community. “Be mindful of the people surrounding you,” Kathryn said. “Ask if they need help. A simple friendship can mean so much.”


The stories, experiences, and advice from immigrant student panelists were reflective of what Campos hoped AU students in attendance would take away from the event.


“These stories are very powerful…when you hear a story, you are so much more impacted,” Campos said. “Not only by what people have been through, but in knowing that we have a role to play in thinking about how to affect change.”