Facing increased enforcement, UO stands behind undocumented students

At the University of Oregon, administrators are providing scholarships, books and other assistance to “undocumented” students — immigrants who are in the country illegally because they overstayed their visas or entered the country in violation of immigration laws.

UO has publicly expressed support for undocumented students, despite the increased enforcement of immigration laws since President Donald Trump took office.

Like other public research universities across the nation, the UO welcomes and supports students without regard for immigration status,” university communications staff wrote in a February AroundtheO post.

Since Trump took office, immigration-related arrests in the United States have jumped 33 percent compared to the same period last year. Trump promised his new immigration policies would not target DREAMers — those brought into the United States at a young age, and protected by former President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, a DACA-recipient was deported last week, and two were detained by immigration enforcement in February.

UO admissions counselors estimate that 35 students are undocumented. On Feb. 2, the university appointed Jane Irungu to serve as a resource for undocumented students. Irungu sits with faculty and staff on the Dreamers Committee Working Group, which is dedicated toward developing initiatives to support undocumented students. Irungu’s team launched a website, UO Dreamers, which highlights what resources are available for them.

Irungu says the university has been helping out Dreamers for two years, but the effort has been somewhat scattered. Now that there’s a point person, she thinks information will be centralized and it will be easier for students to find resources.

Undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid but can apply for state student aid as long as the application does not require a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). At UO, there are scholarships provided by individuals and departments that do not ask for citizenship status. These include the UO Stamps Scholarship, which awards full tuition for four years to five Oregon students annually.

“I know [undocumented students] are often afraid to apply for these scholarships because they think that if they write their name and their [student I.D. number], they will be outed,” said Irungu. “But most of these scholarships rest here on the fourth floor of Oregon Hall, and don’t go anywhere. So that’s why we are encouraging students to complete them, because that paperwork remains in Oregon. It doesn’t go to the federal government.”

According to Pew Research, a majority of undocumented immigrants work low-income jobs. 62 percent of undocumented immigrants work “service, construction and production” jobs, which is more than twice the rate of U.S. born workers in those fields.

Irungu is promoting a book loan program that helps undocumented students with the cost of textbooks. She started the program while she was a director for UO’s Center for Multicultural Excellence (CMAE). The program is based on financial need.

Once students are accepted, they can request what books they need before the term begins. The department adds the books to its expanding library and loans books to the students.

The university doesn’t offer counseling services specifically for undocumented students, but the University Health Center provides anxiety and stress workshops facilitated by a person who is well-versed on social justice issues. The Wellness Center in the EMU is run by students also trained on campus social-justice issues and health issues. The department has surveyed undocumented students to find out how it might be able to help them more.

Members of the working group hold monthly open meetings to educate the community on such topics as who Dreamers are and what language is considered inappropriate in their community. The team is also planning “ally training” sessions to teach others about what undocumented students typically face.

“What you learn in ally training is what it means to be undocumented,” said Irungu. “What are the challenges and barriers of someone who is undocumented? You also learn about how to be a support system for someone who is undocumented, or how to be proactive with working with the institution for resources.”

For those wondering what they can do to help undocumented students, Irungu says donations benefit the university’s work. Three university staff members are holding a fundraising yoga session on May 6 at the Gerlinger Annex.

“There is real fear in the community, and so just the fact that the university itself has extended their resources to support specifically these students is a huge step,” said Megan Cave, one of the organizers. “It gives them a safe place to ask for help and resources.”

Follow Andy Field on Twitter @AndyTsubasaF . 

Editor’s note: The first paragraph has been edited from the original version to improve clarity. 

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Andrew Field

Andrew Field

Former Japan Times intern. Daily Emerald reporter and FishDuck editor. Tokyo-Singapore-Houston-Eugene, but Oregonian forever. West Ham United and Portland Timbers fan.

If you got a tip for me on an issue you feel I should be covering, don't hesitate to leave me an email ([email protected]).