Thank You Undocumented and Immigrant Students at UMD
As my time as your Undocumented Student Program (USP) Coordinator ends, I am honored and deeply humbled to have lived and advocated with former, current, and prospective undocumented and immigrant students at UMD. Together we faced significant challenges in building awareness and prioritizing the needs of undocumented and immigrant students. But above all else, I celebrate and thank you for the accomplishments of our work over the last three years.
Following tireless efforts by the ProtectUMD coalition in 2016, you set out to establish a permanent staff position on campus to advance and prioritize the needs of undocumented and immigrant students. You shared your testimonies and knowledge year after year to keep my contract afloat, and your efforts gained the support of the university student body with two resolutions in support of making this role permanent.
Yet, I am deeply disappointed that despite your efforts, widespread institutional barriers have delayed the hiring of a permanent staff position. I am disappointed that your concerns for a permanent position to serve undocumented students were not addressed with transparency, but instead silenced by vague official statements and multiple meetings that failed to address and include you in timelines for hire, position titles, and responsibilities.
Witnessing these institutional barriers showed me that I could not fully work alongside you under the conditions in place. White silence throughout the process failed to create space for difficult conversations around race and systemic oppression. Colonizing attitudes failed to include and channel student voices and concerns. Capitalistic thinking emphasized numbers (“only” 150 undocumented students at UMD) over needs, thereby dehumanizing each of you. Lack of transparency led to overtaxing our emotional and mental labor as we tried to understand conflicting messages about the responsibilities and future of this position.
I grieve that my choice to say yes to my values, your humanity, leadership, power, and stories means I must move on from our work together.
At a moment of grave uncertainty due to the looming Supreme Court decision on the future of DACA, the search for a coordinator of the Undocumented Student Program was initially suspended amid institutional hiring freezes. On May 27, 2020, I learned a waiver was granted. While this is an essential first step, I hear your concerns about lack of communication, respect, agency, and ultimately, tokenization. I hear your concerns and encourage you to engage.
My hope for the hiring of the position moving forward is that:
● The position is directly overseen by Dr. Patty Perillo. In an email to the student affairs body addressing the senseless deaths of Black people Dr. Perillo stated that “For as long as I serve as your vice president for student affairs, it is my deep commitment to use my White privilege and positional power to create a more humane and just community.” Given the ways the STAMP leadership team has hindered our work, my hope is that she engages and validates your experiences in this process through action.
● The search committee not only includes but makes decisions based on feedback from students, staff, alumni, and faculty who have directly engaged and co-led USP in the past five years.
● The finalist has an immigration policy background and a strong relationship with the DMV immigrant community.
● They demonstrate a proven record of centering immigration, race, and students in their programming.
My hope is that the campus community, and especially the person who fills this critical position:
● Are included, along with students, in all strategy and decision-making processes that affect undocumented and immigrant students.
● Invests in the leadership and growth of Migrating Shells, a newly created student organization that centers on immigrant identity and experience.
● Create a protocol and communications plan that centers students and their families should Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) come to campus. This protocol should reinforce students’ rights under FERPA, make clear the difference between an administrative warrant and a judicial warrant, clarify both UMPD’s jurisdiction on campus and within Prince Georges County, and the role of general counsel.
● Conduct a campus-wide evaluation of scholarships in each college and division that requests, but do not require a SSN or FAFSA.
● Create internships and scholarships that are stipend-based for undocumented students to be able to engage in professional development.
● Fundraise alongside UMD’s development team to provide funding for undocumented students barred from the CARES Act and requiring DACA renewals.
● Create a student support group led by counseling center staff.
My hope is that institutional leadership will champion rebuilding trust with our communities by:
● Providing an apology to the Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color for their lack of transparency and miscommunication that increased fear and anxiety in an already tumultuous time.
● Requiring all supervising staff to engage in professional development around White Supremacy, racism, and colonialism. It should also center immigration history, the culture of niceness, toxic positivity, gaslighting, White silence, and discomfort to directly engage in anti-racist work that exists in STAMP and within the larger UMD campus.
● Re-distributing budgets in a way that centers the salient identities of Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color on this campus so that there is more capacity for staff and students to lead and engage.
My heart is heavy knowing that support for our community remains tenuous, however, all of your accomplishments, courage, and resilience, give me hope for the future. During Immigrant Resilience Week 2019, you engaged over 500 people in ten events and raised more than $9,000 at the 3rd Annual Dream Gala to fund student scholarships. You fundraised and represented your power at a national conference; engaged in conversations around sexual assault; helped pilot a course on immigrant identity and experiences; conducted IRB-approved research on the UndocuTerp training series; engaged in courageous conversations with Julissa Arce, Kal Penn, and Diane Guerrero, and went to the Supreme Court to defend DACA and immigrant rights.
Especially in these difficult times, I celebrate those of you who graduated this year, surmounting the unique personal and social challenges of the pandemic. You joined more than 25 undocumented students who graduated over the past three years, overcoming a system that is stacked against us and designed to ensure that fewer than 2% of all undocumented students graduate with a college degree. You gifted me your trust and the privilege to be a part of your tenure at UMD, and I will carry this with honor and pride.
I hope that as I have, you too forgive yourself for allowing trespasses against you, especially silence and willful dimming of your brilliance, and embrace the lessons you needed to learn. You are powerful and your existence at UMD is an act of resistance.
Continue to persist, heal, and rest. This work has always been and will continue to be student-led. Continue making history and know that your fearless ideas matter regardless of the undermining forces of White supremacy and colonization. Remember that no one can ever be illegal on stolen land — Piscataway Conoy Land.