Dominican students come out of shadows, into the light

Undocumented students vocal about Trump-era fears at April 17 rally

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

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."


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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 12:10 PM

@Rick - the source of the $30k figure comes from Dominicans web site, that is what it costs to go there. How that gets paid, for many of their students, is a wide collection of government payments by the state and federal governments. Many of those programs have been described, even touted, in the WJ in the past. Dominican is a machine when it comes to getting government money for their students, while they also are not shy about charging top dollar for their tuition. My main point is that they love government when it throws dollars specifically at them and they hate the government when it enforces laws. If they want to hate the federal government, they should take a stand and stop taking money from the federal government.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 10:57 AM

"[W]e're not here to threaten anybody's values or to change anyone's culture or way of thinking." I think that's quite disingenuous. This group's purpose is to disregard or eliminate U.S. immigration law and enforcement. Many people still believe that America is a nation of laws. To try so blatantly to unravel that is contrary to my culture and values. Just yesterday, we were treated to images of the migrant "caravan" at the border complete with folks waving the Honduran flag and singing the Honduran national anthem while demanding to be allowed into the U.S. How is that not threatening the values of those legally in the U.S.?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: April 28th, 2018 2:14 PM

In my opinions colleges are places for the exact opposite: places where challenging, and thought provoking ideas are born and discussed. If this idea - thinking and discussing thought provoking and "challenging ideas" - violates ones sense of "safety" maybe you don't belong in college - maybe you should stay in your room with a nice warm bottle.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 10:11 PM

Mr. Hiniojosa......If you read my complete post, I clearly indicated I had a conversation with a young lady from Dominican. Where in my post did I state that all kids should come out of college as "intellectual " adults. There is nothing wrong with safe space, but to demand that it be provided by a university is unrealistic and unproductive. Based on your rebuttal of my post, you may have spent too much time in "safe spaces" in college.

Rick Hinojosa from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 1:56 PM

Ramona, you gather all that character analysis from a couple of sentences by Ms. Aguilera? I'm impressed. So, if Universities are, according to your comment, "most intellectually dangerous places there is" do you honestly agree that every student in the history of U.S. academia goes in a kid and comes out an intellectual adult? by the time they graduate (traditional college age students) let's say 22 years of age, their brain's have not surely matured. So, these "kids" will continue to grow with experience and learn to on their own, on how to articulate or defend their position. The "safe space" rhetoric seems like a sift spot for some, including yourself. Is it wrong to feel safe in a space? including a place of learning?

Rick Hinojosa from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 1:42 PM

Tom, please provide the source of the $30,000 per student under Title V program. Looking up the details of the program, it is NOT a tuition assistance program. A reminder to other readers here, undocumented students are NOT eligible for the Federal Student Aid program known as FAFSA.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 25th, 2018 12:05 PM

How often would one's citizenship status come up in their daily routine? I speak with an accent, and it rarely if ever comes up. Ms. Aguilera acts as if when she goes to the grocery store, jumps in the Uber, takes the CTA, or just goes about her daily business that it matters. Sorry, but 99% of the population doesn't really care. " Injustice Fighting Task Force" Specifically, what injustices? Where else can undocumented attend college, buy property, obtain a drivers license, etc? I had a conversation with a young lady from Dominican a few months ago. She just "loved" how Dominican provides her so much "safe space". I in turn questioned why on earth would you want "safe space"? These college students have carved out 4 years of their lives to do nothing but grow their intellect exponentially. Why the hell would you want to spend those 4 years with people who look like you, act like you, talk like you, have the same religion as you, speak the same language as you and have the same political ideology as you. Universities should be the most intellectually dangerous places there is. When these kids run into someone who doesn't agree with them, they have absolutely no idea how to articulate or defend their position. They have never been challenged or questioned and when they are their typical response is to bully you, try to speak over you, call you a bigot, racist, etc. These kids from Dominican, like most their are, will enter the workforce with no resilience whatsoever.

Tom MacMillan from 708-6577615  

Posted: April 24th, 2018 3:47 PM

Dominican loves the Federal Government when it is paying them $30000 per student per year for Title V and hates the Federal Government for everything not involving writing a check to Dominican.

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