An Open Letter to Undocu+ Freshmen

This is part one in a series of op-eds by members of Harvard student groups welcoming the Class of 2021 to campus.

Dear Freshmen:

Arriving on campus as a first year student, you will experience a myriad of changes as you transition to life at Harvard. This may be the first time that you can focus on receiving your education instead of helping to pay the bills. This may be the first time that you will have access to quality health care. This may be the first time you physically feel safer from possibilities of deportation. If you are undocumented, DACAmented, part of a mixed-status family, or another immigrant identity negatively affected by the current immigration system, this letter is for you.

On Nov. 8, 2016, members and friends of Act on a Dream gathered in a common room to watch what we expected to be an easy win. We prepared to celebrate the loss of the presidential candidate who had been bringing fear to our community for far too long. We prepared to see the hateful rhetoric end once and for all. Little did we know it was only the beginning.

Hours later, the light from the TV screen reflected on our members’ faces, illuminating the tears rolling down their cheeks. Intermittent silence filled the room—interrupted only by the faint sounds of sobbing and tissues being ripped out of boxes.

We thought about our families. We wondered what would happen to our parents in a country that saw them as criminals.

We thought about ourselves. What would this mean for our education and our possibilities to study abroad? Would we be able to work after getting our degrees from Harvard? Would we even be able to graduate? What would become of our lives under the Trump administration?

This election made it clear. We didn’t have many people on our side. A huge portion of the country was against us. But we did have each other. We needed time to heal, but we also needed to be provided with support in a time of increased vulnerability. We needed to make sure that we, along with future generations, would feel safe at Harvard.

For many undocu+ students, their stake in immigration policies has been a source of empowerment. Alongside others in the community, many develop their undocumented identity and reclaim the power that continues to be taken away by politics. After the election, members of Act on a Dream organized to meet with University President Drew G. Faust, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and countless other administrators to establish support structures. Members of Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard organized rallies to fight for a sanctuary campus. Campus organizing, among other forms of activism, has been the soil for the flourishing array of administrative support.

However, the majority of undocu+ students also grow at Harvard without ever being involved in campus organizing. Whether it is focusing on becoming a leader in their career field or spending time in various extracurricular interests, many undocu+ students thrive at Harvard without ever disclosing their legal status to others or involving themselves in the political issue. These members of the community are equally loved and valued.

While we, the authors of this article, are both DACAmented, we recognize that we can’t speak for all members of the Undocu+ community. Nevertheless, we welcome all students interested in getting involved. In the current times, existing as an individual affected by immigration policies is already a form of activism.

Navigating Harvard is hard enough as a first year student. Many undocu+ students still deal with fear of deportation, limited study abroad and work opportunities, mental health concerns, and an uncertain future that adds an even more complex layer to your freshman experience. You will have questions on how to navigate this system as an undocumented college student that not everyone will be able to answer.

Although you’ve been waiting to move in since the moment you received your acceptance notice—maybe even longer—it’s not easy to start this new chapter in your life. As an Undocu+ student, you can find support through Act on a Dream. People have found a home through support groups, community dinners, canvassing events, demonstrations, and more. Students can be assured to receive support through compassionate individuals in Harvard’s administrative bodies.

You can find central help through Katie Derzon, the Fellow for Undocumented Students, and Camila Nardozzi, the Director of the Office of International Education. Many students have received legal help from Jason Corral, the full time attorney for undocumented/DACA students. Training a multitude of staff, connecting with individual students, and implementing solutions through the Undocumented Student Working Group, the administration has showed their dedication to our community. However, these structures are a product of daily organizing by undocu+ students.

We are no longer gathering in fear as we were that night in the common room. We are gathering with pride for the work that has been done and with hope for the change that is yet to come. We are so excited to welcome you to our community as we continue improving the community for all, regardless of citizenship status.

Love,

Your Undocu-family, Act on a Dream

Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, Act on a Dream Advocacy Co-Chair, is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House. Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, Act on a Dream Co-Director, is a government concentrator in Quincy House.

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