Dominican University has affirmed that it will continue to support its undocumented students.
The statement, released early last week, came on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, would be repealed.
“With or without DACA, Dominican University will continue to support its undocumented students,” the Sept. 5 statement read. “The Dominican University community stands in solidarity with its undocumented students, their families and their communities. We view the repeal of DACA as unjust and shortsighted. And we urge the passage of the bipartisan Dream Act as a permanent legislative solution.”
Dominican University President Donna Carroll said this statement is meant to continue the school’s longstanding tradition of supporting all students, regardless of documentation.
“In this political climate, with so much uncertainty, the most important thing is to give our students some sense of certainty of our support of them because so much else is uncertain,” Carroll said.
Dominican’s recent history of support includes its sanctuary campus statement, and its vocal support of River Forest’s Welcoming Resolution, which passed on Aug. 21. Carroll said she wants to make sure students don’t give up on their education because of fear — and she wants them to know that the school supports them even if that means taking a risk.
“When you’re making a strong stand, you’re taking a risk for something you believe in,” she said, but pointed out the village’s resolution, Illinois’ recent Trust Act, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunch defense of sanctuary cities. “I think the more company we have, the less risky it gets.”
Carroll’s passionate advocacy for undocumented students comes partly from presiding over a university with fewer than 4,000 students. In such a small community, she said, the students are not simply statistics, but vivid, dynamic human beings.
It was an interaction with one such student that gave Carroll perspective on the realities of undocumented students. In the middle of winter a few years ago, she watched a student ride his bicycle to campus in a snowstorm.
“When he and I finally talked about it, that’s how I came to understand that undocumented students couldn’t get driver’s licenses. I had no idea.”
Paola Montenegro is a sophomore Spanish and business major at Dominican University. Her single mother came to the U.S. from Mexico with the 8-year-old Montenegro and her brother, who was 14 at the time. The family had come from a poor village and Montenegro’s mother had fled with her children to Illinois from an abusive marriage.
Now in her 20s, Montenegro said she has always been honest about her status as an undocumented immigrant. She became a Dreamer, following President Obama’s executive order, and has a vision of the future where her business degree helps her land a job at an accounting firm, and her fluency in Spanish allows her to volunteer as a translator as a way to give back to the community.
After the November 2016 presidential election, Montenegro said she considered applying to universities in Mexico. Her permit to remain in the U.S. expires in March 2018, too soon for her to be certain she can complete her degree at Dominican University. But while she speaks Spanish, it is not her first language, and she said it would be almost impossible to complete her degree in Spanish-speaking classrooms. More than that, Montenegro considers herself an American.
“I’m very proud of being raised here, and for the opportunities I was given,” she said. “I do know about my Latin roots, but I was raised here and that’s just how it feels.”
Dominican University’s continued support of undocumented immigrants has made Montenegro feel safe. She said she trusts the school administration and isn’t worried that officials might come to the campus and take her away.
This is in part due to the administration’s policy of sharing any statements about undocumented immigrants with the Dominican Immigrant Student Collective, or DISC, before those statements are shared with the student body or general public.
She doesn’t know what will happen in the future but has hope the country won’t turn its back on her. She wants people to know that she and other undocumented immigrants who came here as children just want to live their lives.
“This wasn’t our fault. It wasn’t our fault that we were brought to this country. We didn’t ask, but we’re very thankful for the opportunities we got. We’re not trying to take anything away from anyone,” she said. “The most important thing in the world is to just help one another and to get our voice out there.”