Published: Monday, 26 October 2020
This interview was held with Program Coordinator, Jessica Rios from the Dream Success Center (DSC). Rios offers insight on the importance of voting, issues impacting immigrant communities, and resources available to students.
What is your role at the Dream Success Center and why were you interested in this role?
I’m currently the Program Coordinator, but I like to say that I wear many hats at the DSC as well. I oversee our Butterfly Peer Mentor program [and] our Dream.Us Scholars. The Butterfly Peer Mentor program was established to help create a sense of community and bonding between five upper-division peer mentors and roughly twenty peer mentees; they really serve as a guide to the University [as] the lens of an undocumented student on campus. The Dream.US program is an amazing partnership we have that provides a scholarship to students who have applied to it previously [and] it rewards up to tuition per semester.
I was interested in this role because I started my advocacy at a young age. I grew up in a mixed-status family,- I remember my parents bringing us along to meetings with lawyers and going through the process. I’ve seen so many family members go through the different processes to naturalize. Some of the things that come with being undocumented or being part of a mixed-status family is seeing the lack of resources or the lack of information. There are resources, but the lack of information is an ongoing issue. There are still things that I am learning today in my role that I take back and share with my family.
It was in college I started seeing more people in higher education that still [face] this lack of information. I got more involved while I was at Long Beach State University (LBSU). One of my peers, who recently graduated, decided to do a program evaluation on the UndocuAlly training that we offered in-person, and she really wanted to bring the student perspective into the training. She recruited me along with a couple others to help develop the UndocuAlly training video which is still in use today. That inspired me to continue to use ways to merge what I’m learning in the classroom and bring it back into my community, and back to LBSU. When I found out about the graduate student position, I went for it, and for that role I was in charge of helping plan the first Undocu Conference. From that position I was able to transition into the Program Coordinator.
What support is there for our undocumented communities at the Dream Success Center?
The Dream Success Center’s mission is to empower undocumented students so that they can thrive academically and personally. At the DSC we’re a mighty team of two staff members and ten student assistants., We offer general counseling, where students can meet with Dr. Norma Salcedo or myself to talk about the LBSU processes including, financial aid, classes, university policies, grad school, life after college, and connections to off-campus resources. I like to think of ourselves also as a referral system because, like I mentioned, we’re a small team and we have so many people on-campus and off-campus that support us and that I’d like to think of as our team as well. For example, our mental health support. Because of our relationship with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), we were able to formalize a partnership that allows us to work with a CAPS liaison, Dr. Canales, and she hosts our group empowerment circles and she does one-on-one consultations with our students.
Another example I want to highlight is our immigration legal services. Through the state of California, the Chancellor’s office was allotted moneys to bring on legal providers to the CSU campuses, and we are partnered with the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). They offer free, direct representation and legal counsel. It’s an amazing resource because it’s not only open for students; it’s also available for faculty, staff and immediate family members. Right now they are also virtual so they’re adaptable, and they’ve helped with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals, naturalization, T visas, and U visas. I always tell students if you don’t know where that first step is, and you want to have someone that can help guide you and explore options, make an appointment with our legal providers.
We also provide financial aid advice at our office. A lot of the time, students ask me how am [they’re] going to pay for housing, books, and so we help connect them to experts. We give them the information and do a general assessment of what they need. Sometimes it’s looking at scholarships and helping them develop the language of their application, then referring them to the Scholarships Office. Or maybe they have to submit something to financial aid so we connect them with our liaisons at the Financial Aid Office. And sometimes it’s connecting them to Basic Needs. We also connect [our students] with the larger campus community. For example, we work really closely with the Educational Opportunity program (EOP) – they’re facilitating our workshops for the California Dream Act Application right now. With academic counselors – I know how scary it can be for students to make that first contact so sometimes I’m the one that sends that introductory email. With admissions and enrollment, because we don’t just work with students at the Center – we work with incoming students as well.
Are there specific immigration issues or experiences that you wish more people knew about and understood better?
Many of our incoming and current students do not have protections like DACA or Temporary Protected Status (TPS). We have to remember that for those who have applied for DACA as a new applicant before it was ended, they had to have been 16. We’re [now] seeing that wave of folks who would’ve been qualified for DACA. Likewise, students who don’t have TPS, are ineligible for paid internships, scholarships that require a Social Security Number (SSN), federal financial aid, and federally funded benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). I have upper level students worried that they aren’t going to be able to receive the professional development needed to pursue long term careers. They ask me: “How can I pursue a career with the degree I’m going to get?” It’s also realizing there is no real pathway for some and there are those who cannot pay for professional development. We’re doing our best in exploring ways to support them; I know ASI does an amazing job [in] providing scholarships for students involved in the Associated Students Incorporated community on campus (ASI) – I’m happy some of my students are able to partake in ASI and get paid for that experience.
There are also students who can’t travel abroad. Since the government got rid of advanced parole. Outside the pandemic, that’s already a barrier because they have no SSNpassport or permissions to, travel abroad and come back. That sometimes means they can’t see family members or they’re unable to just go on a trip with a professor and conduct research.Many don’t think about it often but domestic travel can also cause unease. I had one student that was interested in coming to LBSU, and they aren’t necessarily from California – they were uneasy of coming to visit because they just wanted to know what would be the implications of travelling should they be stopped by a police officer.
Deportation is very real, especially under the current administration that’s constantly making threats. Our students have the constant realization that being deported can happen, so they are preparing themselves. Hopefully my students and other folks develop family preparedness plans in case it does happen. I hope professors are of aware of this– now that students are home, they’re very cognizant of [deportation]. It can be hard to study for an exam or to complete an assignment because there are these things that make them feel anxiety or unease.
TPS has ended for many countries [like] Sudan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Nepal. Many of our students and their parents will be affected. TPS allows folks to, like DACA, have protections from deportation and a work authorization. Some might have their TPS revoked as soon as March, so that means those who are currently working might not have a job come March. I think it’s time to have those conversations on how we keep them “employed” and discuss ways we can support them as this is happening.
Immigration is more than a Latinx issue. With Dr. Salcedo coming in, we’re trying to highlight at our Center, through our intersectionality series, that folks who are undocumented aren’t necessarily just Latinx folks. They may have other things they might be stressing about. The previous series we had was on Black Lives Matter movement and the Immigrant Rights Movement because folks might be going through two different types of stressors. They are Black and being attacked by the police – they’re undocumented and victims of ICE. We also had our Asian communities attacked with hate speech regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. These are layers some of our students have [to face].
Why is it important to vote in this year’s election?
It’s always important to vote, whether it’s presidential or local, this election just happens to be a presidential election. I want to remind everyone that undocumented immigrants are not able to vote even though their livelihoods are impacted by legislation. There are some key legislation currently on the ballot that affect immigrant communities, and I think it’s the responsibility of the those able to vote to empower other underrepresented communities.
Being specific within Los Angeles (LA) County, there’s a few measures and propositions I’d like to debrief:
- Proposition 16 would reverse a ban on affirmative action
- Proposition 17 would restore voting rights to folks who have been disqualified from voting while serving a prison term.
- Proposition 21 would enact rent control. Speaking from the experience of the students I’ve been meeting with, and a survey done by Dream.Us, many students have been laid off since the outbreak, Tthey don’t have a stable income, and they’re facing housing insecurity. With rent going through the roof in Long Beach and Los Angeles (LA) County in general, it’s important to consider when voting on this.
- Measure J would reinvest in our communities by allocating 10% of funds to local outreach programs and alternatives to incarceration. This is a way to empower our neighborhoods financially.
- Measure RR authorizes Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) bond to implement COVID-19 safety standards so that students are able to return [to school] safely.
What is at stake for our immigrant communities this election?
So much. We need to show up for them, especially since the current administration has made many attacks on the immigrant community. To name a few, ending DACA, ending TPS, increasing the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) filing fees, mass deportation threats, and increased family separation. This current administration will likely continue doing this. Even during the pandemic, many weren’t offered the smallest relief, and I’m referring to the $1,200 stimulus check that many citizens and legal permanent residents got. A lot of people were left out of that, and a handful of our undocumented students in particular were left out of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Not even that smallest relief was offered to undocumented students. Think the other thing to consider is that the alternative to the current administration has committed to creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Hopefully, Americans consider that when they’re voting.
Get out there and vote!
How can we individually support our community members who are unable to vote?
Vote! Make informed decisions about who you’re voting for. So that you can make an informed decision, I know the University is offering many different events.
You can also check in on community members who are being impacted to show you’re there for them. Work to understand what their needs and concerns are. If we are able to vote, we need to make sure we’re being representative of our communities and being empathetic.
Know where legal resources are and to engage with an open mind. Don’t assume there’s a single narrative or experience as not everyone has the same opportunities. At the DSC we can point you to experts. Do not assume to know what a pathway to citizenship might be.
Connect with local and national undocumented advocacy groups. Know that checking in and asking for information are two different things. We should not put the work on undocumented communities to have them share their traumas with us. We can go to where the information is and educate ourselves. In Long Beach we have the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC) that are committed to empowering folks by providing access to resources that are available through social services.
Some blogs, websites, and organizations that can educate us are:
- My Undocumented Life:created by a Harvard undocumented, doctoral student where she shares information regarding books to read to be educated, scholarships for undocumented folks, job opportunities, and her personal experiences.
- Immigrants Rising:is specific for undocumented and folks supporting undocumented students.
- Define American:tries to move away from that “dreamer” narrative.
- Pre-Health Dreamers:has resources for scholarships, narratives, and how to get into medical school. They have a peer mentorship program where they connect with other folks in this field of work.
Educate yourself at the institutional level at the very minimum. You can learn about the admissions and enrollment policies that affect our students, and we can do research on immigration-related policies. Some places we can get that information would be the National Immigration Law Center, CHIRLA, CARECEN, which we have on campus, and the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.
What events or initiatives does the Dream Success Center have planned for the next few weeks?
After the election, we are going to have a debrief with CARECEN, our legal provider that has done amazing workshops with us in the past. They’ll talk about some of the propositions that will be affecting students, and, more importantly, how the next administration looks like what their previous commitments look like, and how undocumented students might be affected. That will be on November 17 from 6 - 7 p.m., and students can RSVP at the link on our Instagram.
We will continue to have our support sessions with CAPS – the one directly after the election on November 5 at 1 p.m. will be our dedicated space to share feelings on the election and the results coming in.
The Wings of Hope, which is now an annual event helps the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) raises funds for our undocumented community, challenges inequities, and promotes an environment where there are no barriers for undocumented students.
The funds that were raised were used to expand paid professional development opportunities for our students. We now offer two scholarships for students to volunteer in our Butterfly Peer Mentorship program – folks do not need to have a Social Security Number to receive a scholarship.
We have revamped UndocuAlly trainings. We secured funding from our Student Excellence Fees (SEF) to allow two students to work as research fellows to revamp the training. This allows us to provide real life, real time information to better prepare our allies and students to address the cognitive, social, and institutional factors that affect undocumented students’ success. We’ll also be tailoring these trainings to have partnerships with specific departments so that they can easily engage in our training in a hybrid way that addresses their specific needs.
I’m also part of a LBSU Internship and Service Learning working group, and part of my role in this committee is to explore ways to have paid on and off-campus internships and service learning opportunities for all students regardless of immigration status.
Lastly, we’re continuing to implement communication strategies that include sending out an AB540-wide student email communication. At the university we don’t keep a list of our undocumented students to protect them, so we’re continuing to strategize ways to make sure students know we’re here for them. We want them to know, that we are available to meet when they are ready, and we have programs and workshops so they can be successful.
Connect with the DSC at LBSU
If you need support from the DSC, you can connect with me via email at Jessica.Rios@csulb.edu. You can connect with us at our general email Dream@csulb.edu. I also have my personal booking calendar if you want to set up an appointment. We also have social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a newsletter you can opt-in on.