September 26, 2016 — Two years after Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, opened a center for undocumented students, it continues to be a place of harbor and hope.
The Center for Undocumented Students (TCUS), which opened in the fall of 2014, is one of just a few such centers at U.S. universities. Dr. Jennifer Ayala, director of the center and a professor of political science, explained that its mission is “to support the academic work of undocumented students at the university; to shed intellectual light on the political and economic realities of immigration in our world today; and to create a community where undocumented students feel welcome.”
In practical terms, this includes providing a safe space for students; a resource library; legal support; advice for TCUS students and their families about deportation defense and on immigration issues; and mentoring.
The center also helps students find ways to pay for their education. Because undocumented students cannot obtain loans or receive grants, they have to pay their own tuition or look for donors to assist with tuition. The center and faculty use their networks to help connect students with donors, and anonymous donors set up a dreamer scholarship fund, available to Saint Peter’s students who meet certain academic criteria.
The TCUS grew out of conversations with Saint Peter’s faculty and staff, as they became aware of the plight of the undocumented. Other Jesuit colleges and universities around the country are also grappling with how to help the undocumented, so there is a network sharing the best practices, according to Ayala.
Li, 23, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with his family when he was seven, is getting ready to graduate from Saint Peter’s and plans to go to graduate school for a master's in mental health. Erika, 20, who came to the States when she was eight, says she “feels safe at the university” and is planning a career in international business. Both feel fortunate to be students at Saint Peter’s and have the support of the center.
“There is a general ignorance of the plight of the millions of undocumented,” said Dr. Anna Brown, a political science professor at the university. She said that all the labels cannot obscure the fact “we need to see a human being in front of us.” [Source: NJ.com]