Panelists review rights of undocumented students


U. group uses videoconferencing to connect with activists, scholars


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Photo by Shawn Smith |

Panelists came together from different parts of the country to stimulate public discourse on the issues faced by undocumented immigrants yesterday at the Graduate Student Lounge in the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.


Technology helped bring together organizers from the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago and two other professors for a panel to stimulate public discourse on issues faced by undocumented immigrants.

Technology Without Borders is a university-wide series hosted by Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education. This year, the series focuses on citizenship and responsibility.

For the first time, the series used a hybrid panel with videoconferencing technology. This connected the panelists in New Brunswick to organizers from the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago, Professor Dr. Roberto G. Gonzales at the University of Chicago and Professor Carola Suárez-Orozco at the University of California

Yesterday’s panel at the Graduate School of Education brought social science scholars, undocumented youth and activists together to discuss two key issues — the various definitions of citizenship circulating in social science research and in public discourse and the impact of educational and immigration policies on undocumented youth and their families.

“The speakers [discussed] the significance of citizenship and how they advocate for the rights of mixed-status families and undocumented youth,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa said during her research on children of undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania, she learned that citizenship represents a legal status to undocumented families with children born in the United States.

Some children’s report cards graded students for citizenship, based on their participation and behavior. But their undocumented parents did not understand why the word citizenship was used in that context

Out of fear, the undocumented parents did not form relationships with their children’s teachers and became disinterested in their children’s life at school, Figueroa said.

Living as an undocumented citizen does not have the same implications that are portrayed in the media and political rhetoric, Suárez-Orozco said.

“Not just simple black and white, legal and illegal” shesaid.

All children, documented or undocumented, have the right to an education, she said, but access to higher education exists in this grey area.

When applying to college, undocumented students do not have access to federal or state aid, Suárez-Orozco said. They are classified as international students, and must pay three to seven more for tuition compared to legal residents.

Gonzales said even with a degree, people’s legal statuses can prevents employers from hiring them.

He said legislation needs to change so more people can have access to educational resources, but the pressure on the state from undocumented students and activists brings this vision closer to reality.

Giancarlo Tello, an undocumented University student from Rutgers-Newark, also spoke at the event.

He is a member of New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, a statewide organization run by youths who advocate for issues affecting immigrants in New Jersey and organize groups and individuals to help pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act and its in-state counterparts.

In New Jersey, undocumented students cannot receive in-state tuition, but with the help and persistence of the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition, they hope to pass two bills regarding in-state tuition, said Marisol Conte-Hernandez, cofounder of the coalition.

Hernandez said change must happen at a state level first before reaching a national level.


Maggie Monaghan

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