Undocumented students fight for visibility

Robert Ellis, president of the MCTC Student Senate, and chair of the MSCSA President’s Group, and Corinne Salone listen as the General Assembly convenes onOct. 15 in Bloomington, MN. Photos by Alison Bergblom Johnson/City College News

Estefania Navarro sat in the lobby of the Bloomington, MN. Hilton, her head in her hands, late in the night on Friday, Oct. 16 during the MN Student Leadership Summit 2015 presented by the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA).

During the debate over a motion to support undocumented students, such students had been called “illegal” more than once. Worse, the motion had failed. Navarro falls under President Barack Obama’s program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

She is an undocumented immigrant. She is a student at MCTC. Navarro has spoken out about her situation before, specifically in an article about DACA, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Navarro said, “I am drained. I am running on fumes. I’m passion- ate. I know I’m not the only one speaking up so far.”

Oscar Corral, a student from Inver Hills Community College and MSCSA Platform Committee chair, made a motion to introduce the amendment to the organization’s platform document propos- ing undocumented students be able to apply for driver’s licenses. Lora Roberts, a Senator in the MCTC Student Senate, seconded that motion.

A student from Central Lakes Community College at Staples then asked the meaning of “undocumented students.” In response, Corral said such students were those who had been brought to this country and might be from any one of a number of countries.

The student from Staples then said that if such a student was “…a foreign exchange student then yes. If you’re not a citizen of the United States you’re therefore illegal, and by being undocumented, then absolutely not. Why would you get a driver’s license?” Many of the tables in the ballroom broke into applause at this comment.

Even some who spoke in favor of the amendment used the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

Sadie Rai from Mesabi Range College said, “This is a very heated topic, but politics aside we are here to support our students, and we are here and still we have the illegal students in our colleges. We need to protect them just as we protect any other student. We are protecting our students.”

The student who first said undocumented students were “illegal” made an amendment to the original motion to amend the platform document to refer only to foreign exchange students and international students.

Michaela Currant, a student from Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, came to speak at one of the microphones, and said, “Mr. Chair, I would like to move to table this indefinitely. Nothing personal, it’s above our heads, we’re above our heads.” Ultimately, the motion to table failed.

Robert Ellis confers with Amanda Gomes Torres, Metro South regional representative to the Governing Council from Normandale Community College on Oct. 18 at the MSCSA conference in Bloomington, MN.
Robert Ellis confers with Amanda Gomes Torres, Metro South regional representative to the Governing Council from Normandale Community College on Oct. 18 at the MSCSA conference in Bloomington, MN.

However, during discussion on that motion one student claimed she was afraid a fight would break out. MCTC Student Senate President Robert Ellis said: “There were definitely threats on both sides. The Governing Council had to meet several times to decide if they were serious enough to suspend the assembly. In the end, no circumstances of fighting or violence happened. We only shut down one event because we were closeted in President’s Group.”

Then the amendment to Corral’s motion to amend the platform to support undocumented students in getting driver’s licenses to instead support international students receiving driver’s licenses passed. The amended language was brought to a vote and failed.

That night the Presidents’ Group, chaired by Ellis, met behind closed doors. By all accounts, it was a very positive meeting, where Senate presidents from across the state shared their own stories of experiencing diversity.

Outside this meeting, which went late into the night, Navarro said she was just like most students, but that she was brought to this country when she was 11. She did not truly understand what it meant to be undocumented until she began looking into college.

Her high school college counselor told her she had the grades for Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter. Navarro looked at Gustavus’ materials and said she was interested in applying. Then the counselor asked how she was going to pay for school. In 2013-2014, the most recent year for which data was available on CollegeView, tuition for one year at Gustavus costs almost $40,000, not including room and board.

The counselor explained that Navarro wouldn’t be able to pay for Gustavus without financial aid. For financial aid, Navarro would need a social security number, which she did not have.

Navarro searched for a way to further her education and discovered that she could pay out- of-pocket for MCTC. She said she and her mother work hard for her education, and she has never taken any federal financial aid money.

The MSCSA draws students from all over the state of Minne- sota, from large colleges and small in urban and rural settings. This urban-rural divide was evident at the conference, particularly in dealing with wounds opened by the language used in the General Assembly.

“There’s a level of cultural competence that students from other schools, they’ve never been educated from. Students who are saying what they said, they don’t have [cultural competence], because they’ve never been educated on it,” said Corinne Salone, vice president of the MCTC Student Senate, “As students from a di- verse school where we have to deal with these issues on a regular basis, we’re used to how to handle these situations in an appropriate man- ner, it’s our job in the inner city, and in the metro area to educate those who are ignorant about these things. Part of it is going out of our comfort zone. Them reaching us and us be open, it’s a two-way learning.”

After much conversation over the weekend there were apologies both from the MSCSA executive director and the MSCSA president on Saturday night over how the MSCSA handled the situation. When the General Assembly reconvened on Sunday morning, Salone introduced a motion to amend the platform document to support federal financial aid for undocumented students. The motion carried. Corral from Inver Hills introduced a motion similar to the original motion to amend the platform to support driver’s licens- es for all students. That motion also carried.

The platform document now included some of the prime concerns of undocumented students. After the assembly approved the platform document many students made motions requesting diversity training and seeking to ban hate speech. While there were differences in how such plans should be enacted there were many that did pass.

On the Friday a few short days before, after a long, long day, facing exhaustion, Navarro said, speaking of the events of the day’s general assembly, “I would say it was the tipping point on race relations at MSCSA and diversity.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply