More than a year into the presidency of Donald Trump, undocumented students at Dominican University in River Forest are still grappling with the fear of deportation. Some of those undocumented students confronted that fear head-on during an April 17 rally held inside the university's social hall.
The demonstration, which was attended by at least 40 people, was billed as a "Coming Out of the Shadows" event — designed to explicitly signal to undocumented students at the college that it is OK to open up about their status and to fight against policies and laws that they consider unjust.
Andrea Aguilera, a junior who is also the president of the Dominican Immigrant Student Coalition, which helped organize the rally, said she knows what that fear feels like.
"I have always been super-open about my undocumented status," she said. "But when Trump came into office, I kind of shut myself down. I was no longer taking interviews from anyone and no longer wanted to disclose my information to anyone. I had a lot of fears."
Fanny Lopez, a Title V project manager with Dominican, said that when she was a student at the university back in 2010, she felt alone as an undocumented student.
"I thought I was the only one," Lopez recalled, during last week's rally, adding that her natural inclination to live under the radar kept her silent about her fears.
"I grew up thinking that to survive as an undocumented person here I needed to be silent, submissive and invisible," Lopez said, adding that she had valid reasons for why she could not be more politically active.
She lived far from the suburbs and was afraid of driving to demonstrations and meetings without a license. She also had homework to focus on.
"They were really valid excuses, but they were still excuses," she said. "I was afraid of organizing and being vocal. I didn't want to take the risk of being radical."
Lopez said she became less fearful after attending a demonstration where a group of undocumented people spoke up publicly about their status without any apparent penalty. Her campus involvement gradually increased.
Eight years ago, she helped start the Injustice Fighting Task Force, a campus organization that works with faculty and staff to create systematic support services for undocumented students. The work may have helped prepare Lopez for what she does today.
Roughly 50 percent of Dominican's student body is Hispanic. The university's designation as a Hispanic-serving institution entitles it to Title V federal funding. As a Title V program manager, Lopez helps create various programs designed to assist students, particularly Latino students, through college.
Carlos Bonitez, a freshman at Dominican who immigrated with his family to the United States from Mexico City, also said fear among the college's undocumented students has grown palpably since Trump's election.
"I've never seen my mom so afraid in my life," Bonitez said. "There's this hysteria in the community that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is coming for you. That's why people step back into the shadows — because of that hysteria."
Aguilera said she has known undocumented students to outright lie about where they're from in order to make people believe they're American-born.
Erick Mendoza, a junior political science major who is also undocumented, said last week's rally was also designed to send a signal to American citizens who may have certain preconceptions about undocumented immigrants.
"We want to create a consciousness within the community that we're not here to threaten anybody's values or to change anyone's culture or way of thinking," Mendoza said. "All we want is an opportunity to prove that we belong here, that we can contribute to this country just like anyone else."
Answer Book 2017
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