Program will help undocumented students with academic careers
Heavy engineering course work, a job at a café in her hometown of Passaic, N.J., and her own financial hardships as an undocumented student did not waver Carimer Andujar’s resolve to help others in similar predicaments.
This semester, her plans came to fruition when UndocuRutgers became an active student organization committed to extending support and advice to undocumented students in Rutgers—New Brunswick.
The group’s membership is not only made up of undocumented individuals. They are joined by students like Eddy Iturbide and Sergio Abreu who stand in solidarity with Andujar’s belief that she is an American in every way except for a “piece of paper.”
Iturbide, the group’s liaison, was undocumented until recently becoming a permanent resident. A scholarship allowed the now School of Engineering sophomore to earn his associates degree at Hudson Community College before transferring to Rutgers.
Having lived without a legal status since immigrating from Mexico as a child, Iturbide is well aware of the narrative used by many, especially conservatives, that brands them as "illegal aliens" and as a financial burden to American society, he said. Not only does he think that this unjust, but said it is also factually inaccurate.
“I’ve heard that (undocumented immigrants) take a lot, that they reap the benefits. That’s definitely not the case,” he said. “I started working at age 19 and ever since I’ve been paying taxes. The taxes are a lot in terms of my paycheck and that’s alright.”
Iturbide cut hair and worked in restaurants to help his family until he was able to apply for deferred action status. Once he obtained a work permit under the program, he began paying taxes and continues to as a resident. His family also pays taxes every year, he said.
Not including federal taxes, undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.64 billion in state and local taxes every year, according to a study by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy released earlier this year. Undocumented immigrants residing in New Jersey pay nearly 600 million dollars in state and local taxes.
The same report found that around 50 percent of the total undocumented population in the United State pay these state and local taxes.
Abreu, treasurer of UndocuRutgers, is a U.S. citizen and also finds this negative perception of undocumented immigrants as “not valid.” The School of Engineering junior said the community is treated as a “scapegoat” for many of the country’s woes.
“They are Americans. They live the same lives as anybody else…I think people place a lot of blame on them that they really don’t deserve,” he said.
Although they are troubled by the rhetoric coming from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump— his proposals to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to repeal the President’s executive actions would have personal implications on them if enacted— Andujar and Iturbide remain confident that Trump's claims are unfounded while their cause is just and attainable.
When he announced his presidential bid last summer, Trump said Mexico was sending people with problems, rapists and people who are bringing crime and drugs. Some, he assumed, were "good people."
“I was undocumented, I grew up here, I went to high school and elementary school here and now I’m at Rutgers trying to be an engineer,” Iturbide said. “Do I sound like a rapist?”
Even if Trump is not elected, Andujar is worried about the legacy of the “dehumanizing” discourse that his campaign is promoting.
“He’s referring to us as pests,” she said. “If we have a retrospective look of history, we know how this is going to happen. We know what is going to happen if he wins. History repeats itself.”
Although they are not overly enthusiastic about a Hillary Clinton presidency— Andujar said she is a typical politician— they hope the Democratic nominee will keep her promises and support their community. The former first lady has vowed to introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to “full and equal” citizenship within her first 100 days in office and to defend the President’s executive actions.
Despite having their own obstacles because of their legal statuses, financial situations and demanding schedules, the members of UndocuRutgers remain determined to help those who are going through similar experiences. For all of them, this commitment is rooted in the values instilled by their families.
They will host a college fair on Nov. 19 in the Cook Campus Center to help undocumented high school and college students with admissions, financial aid and information regarding DACA.
“I was raised to be helpful and I like to give back, especially if I’ve been through it,” Iturbide said. “I know all the struggles of an undocumented student. If I can help someone who can or is going through it, I will definitely help.”
Editor's note: This article is part two of a two-part series on undocumented immigrants and the struggles they face in higher education. You can read part one here.
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.