At least 70 VCU students are undocumented — Yanet Limon-Amado is one of them.
Arriving to the U.S. at 8-years old from Puebla, Mexico, Limon-Amado is now pursuing her college education as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Alongside three other students — Nicte Díaz, Estefania de La Rosa and Haziel Andrade — Limon-Amado founded UndocuRams, an on-campus organization dedicated to creating a more inclusive university environment for undocumented students through two key tools: education and advocacy.
“It’s important to realize undocumented students are in the classrooms with you, next to you,” Limon-Amado said. “It was an appropriate move for us to start educating VCU’s staff, students and community members of the obstacles many face on a daily basis to have access to higher education.”
Launched by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA is an immigration policy that protects children coming to the U.S. without documentation, providing access to health care, driver’s licenses and higher education at an in-state tuition rate. The program also provides undocumented youth work permits and protection from deportation. More than 800,000 minors — 12,000 of whom reside in Virginia — qualified for DACA in 2017, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In 2017, VCU had 70 self-reported DACA students, according to the Division of Student Affairs. Students are not required to self-report, so that number might be larger.
In light of the Trump administration’s decision to phase-out of the DACA program as of September 2017, UndocuRams promotes proactive immigration policies and methods for making resources of higher education available to all undocumented students.
“Currently, there are no policies protecting immigrants, or specifically undocumented immigrants,” Limon-Amado said.
In her eyes, the Trump administration is destroying policies that have made certain resources more accessible to immigrants.
In a 2016 report by the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at UCLA, 85 percent of participants said DACA had a positive educational impact — including higher employment rates, transportation access, stable housing and better financial support.
From removing policies that make it harder for green-card holders to obtain citizenship to slowly taking down DACA permanently, Limon-Amado said — at the federal level — the immigration crisis has not been handled well.
Starting out as a new organization founded last spring, UndocuRams is working to provide resources to undocumented students at VCU in light of the current political climate.
“Creating this organization [can] lead to other students continuing with their educations,” Limon-Amado said. “And having something, or someone, to uplift them.”
With immense support from the university administration, Limon-Amado said, UndocuRams is focusing its efforts this semester toward a series of “UndocuAllies” trainings for VCU students, faculty and staff. The four-hour trainings will be designed to educate participants on the experiences of the undocumented community through interactive and informative activities.
“Our goal is to cultivate a more supportive environment for undocumented students through education,” Limon-Amado said. “UndocuAllies serve as [a] knowledgeable campus resource for students seeking support.”
Despite DACA’s uncertain future, UndocuRams is working to create a safe, protected university for undocumented students. Limon-Amado said there are many steps Virginia can take to aid the lack of federal action.
“At this moment, at the federal level, there’s really nothing [that can happen] unless Congress acts. And as you can see, Congress is not acting,” Limon-Amado said. “But there are a few things that can be done at the state level to protect undocumented immigrants.”
Some of the state-level action Limon-Amado suggested includes access to tuition equity, driver privilege cards and policy changes in detention centers.
UndocuRams plans to tackle the school year by offering support to VCU’s undocumented students while also educating VCU’s students, faculty and staff on the realities of the undocumented community.
“It’s very important to take action,” Limon-Amado said. “To make sure we can all demand for more protected classrooms and a more inclusive university.”
To learn more about UndocuRams, visit facebook.com/undocurams.