February 14, 2017
Interview with Miguel Martinez, Cornell student and member of the DREAM Team on October 11, 2016
Have you ever questioned the struggle that undocumented students face regarding access to higher education in the United States? The following interview with Cornell student Miguel Martinez describes the actions and objectives of the Cornell University DREAM Team and its advocacy efforts on behalf of undocumented students. In the following interview, Miguel discusses some of the DREAM Team’s efforts, including an ally training program to expand awareness and promote understanding about undocumented students on campus. Furthermore, Martinez discusses the Dream Team’s involvement in a nationwide conference to help connect and inform students and allies nationwide, and their creation of a webpage to help undocumented students navigate Cornell University.
In your own words, what are the objectives of the Cornell DREAM Team and why is this organization so important to have on campus?
DREAM Team has a variety of goals within its mission, but ultimately the student organization strives to provide a support network for undocumented students on campus, advocate for broader support services, and also engage in educational outreach in order for the broader Cornell community to learn more about the issues we are tackling here and nationally. It is difficult to obtain the exact numbers, but there are an estimated 123,000 high school senior undocumented students each year. Of this number, few attend college and less than 2,000 undocumented students graduate with a degree. These numbers are due to the fact that there is a lack of resources that are catered for undocumented students to help them attend a higher education institution. Given the current political rhetoric on immigration and the inaction of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform, undocumented students will continue to face challenges that many U.S. citizen students will never face. Opportunities to obtain financial help to pay for college are difficult to find and obtain. Moreover, many universities in the U.S. continue to accept undocumented students as international students, including here at Cornell, unless they have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). As a result, tuition is much higher for them despite the fact that they have lived in the U.S. the majority of their lives. Coupled with the fact that they are constantly dehumanized, it is even more imperative for student organizations like DREAM Team to advocate with undocumented students for greater access to higher education. DREAM Team believes that it is important not only to hold Cornell accountable to its motto of any person, any study, but also retain undocumented students by providing more support services to this student population.
What are some of the biggest initiatives/efforts that the Cornell DREAM Team is pursuing?
At the moment DREAM Team is working on the creation of an ally training program. This program would entail a training session for any Cornell student, faculty, staff, or community member to expand their awareness about undocumented students, to promote a level of understanding, identify allies and fellow advocates, and more importantly promote feelings of safety and support for undocumented students here at Cornell. After this training, participants would receive some type of certificate to show they completed the training as well as a DREAM Team sticker that they can place in their office/laptop to physically demonstrate to possible undocumented students that they have an understanding of undocumented students and the challenges they face. Other efforts by the DREAM Team are the creation of a resource center/space for undocumented students, the creation of more orientation events catered for incoming undocumented students, and more psychological and financial support for undocumented students. It is important to note that although Cornell recently passed a policy that would consider DACA students need blind admission and domestic tuition, undocumented students who were not eligible for DACA are still excluded from this policy. Therefore, DREAM Team would like Cornell give the same opportunity of admission and financial aid for undocumented students regardless of whether they have DACA or not.
What are some of the greatest setbacks that you or your organization has faced? Biggest accomplishments?
Being able to provide more support services, such as the creation of a resource center for undocumented students has been difficult due to Cornell’s inability to take action to do something. Whether it is due to limited money or simply politics, Cornell’s inability to understand why these services and other things we wish to see has hindered our progress towards creating a more inclusive environment here at Cornell. In addition, it is physically and mentally exhausting for DREAM Team members and undocumented students to constantly justify why these resources are imperative to have. Addressing micro-aggressions and dehumanizing opinions, having undocumented students constantly having to look for who can help them with a specific challenge, and relying on only a small amount of Cornell allies for support is difficult for all those involved. Cornell must continue to find ways to better support undocumented students with policy proposals that involve the very population that it would affect. One of our biggest accomplishments involves having created, with the help of our former advisor Rise Burrow and current advisors Juliette Corazon, Joyce Muchan, and others, a resource webpage dedicated to help undocumented students navigate Cornell and find support services. In addition, as mentioned before, Cornell’s new policy regarding need blind admission and domestic tuition for only DACA-mented students was a big win for us. We expanded the opportunities for many DACA-mented students to attend Cornell and be assured they would be taken care of financially. Despite this accomplishment, we are disappointed that Cornell did not spread the net wider by applying the same policy to ALL undocumented students regardless if they have DACA or not. In addition, their decision to change their policy in regards to accepting and helping international students financially was a disappointment to us as well. Despite these setbacks, we are optimistic that these steps will help achieve our broader goals.
What is your connection to the Cornell DREAM team?
I joined Cornell DREAM Team the fall of my freshman year. The organization was relaunched that year after being inactive due to the lack of members. Since then, I have tried my best to help achieve our mission by planning a variety of educational events as well as engaging in political actions to hold Cornell accountable for the lack of resources they have for undocumented students. This organization is also personal to me. Although I am not undocumented, I have grown up aware of some of the challenges they face. In addition, some of my closest friends are undocumented. I don’t have to be undocumented to understand that the issues undocumented students face is an injustice. The fact that people reduce 11 million
undocumented immigrants to numbers and economic figures, as well as the constant dehumanization of their lives has influenced me to do something about it. Listening to their stories is an inspiration and I will one way or the other continue to fight for their rights as long as I can.
If you could pass along one piece of information regarding the DREAM Team to people who are not familiar what the organization, what would this be and why?
DREAM Team is an organization that is open to all, regardless if you are undocumented or not. If you are genuinely interested in supporting and advocating for broader resources and institutional change here at Cornell and beyond, we would love to have you on board. Regardless of your stance on immigration reform and undocumented immigrants, everybody needs to understand that undocumented immigrants are human beings that bring a lot to the table and just want the same opportunities many other students may take for granted. Let us not be divided by our political stance on immigration, rather be open-minded and understand that what DREAM Team is fighting for is not for publicity, rather we keep fighting because the lives of thousands depend on whether or not we can obtain our objectives.
How does the Cornell DREAM team work in partnership with organizations at other universities that share similar objectives?
DREAM Team has recently begun participating in the CAIR (Collegiate Alliance for Immigration Reform) conference. This conference which was held in Dartmouth College this past year seeks to bring undocumented students and allies together to discuss amongst each other about some of the initiatives each of their universities is doing to better support undocumented students. The exchange of ideas through workshops and keynote speaks allow students and allies to improve their current objectives and how to strategically obtain them. Through conferences like these, DREAM Team members create interpersonal connections with other student organizations in other universities to incorporate their experiences into our own. Conferences like these and the people we meet continue to expand our knowledge on immigration and allows a safe space for all involved to speak up and have their voices heard. In addition to this conference, DREAM Team has connections with different national non-profit organizations that seek immigration reform and/or advocate for undocumented immigrants on the national level.