GW adds chapter of national immigration advocacy group

Media Credit: Nineteen universities, including GW and its peers Georgetown and NYU, filed an amicus brief in support of re-instituting the government program DACA. Hatchet File Photo

Christian Alvarez Silva, the president of the chapter, said the idea for the group came after multiple on-campus protests to support immigrant rights.

Students interested in advocating for undocumented immigrants can now join a national, youth-led organization fighting for immigration reform.

Student leaders said UndocuGW, GW’s chapter of United We Dream, registered on Engage Tuesday and plans to support undocumented students and staff through discussions on immigrant rights and policy reform. Executive board members said they hope to advocate for undocumented students by providing resources like a mutual aid fund and educational discussions.

Sophomore Christian Alvarez Silva, the president of UndocuGW, said United We Dream has had a campus presence before, prompting the group to establish a formal chapter this year. He said students participated in a walkout on campus in 2017 as a part of the Clean Dream Act Campaign, launched after former President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“It’s basically the largest immigrant youth network in the country, and we fight for justice and dignity for immigrants,” Alvarez Silva said. “As a chapter, we want to promote awareness for undocumented immigrants and pretty much just provide a safe space for those people.”

He added that students organized a second walkout in 2019 to protest the termination of DACA and sway the U.S. Supreme Court during arguments over the constitutionality of the case.  

Alvarez Silva said he and seven other members came up with the idea for the chapter after they saw many students participate in the 2017 and 2019 protests. Some of the founding members of the chapter also participated in previous United We Dream walkouts at GW, he said.

He said the group’s main focus for the rest of the semester is to grow its social media presence rather than recruiting new members because students are preparing for finals. But he said UndocuGW will co-sponsor events like a “Let’s Talk” series on Instagram, explaining immigration legislation with other local chapters of United We Dream. 

“We are looking forward to next semester, whether that’s hybrid or in person,” he said. “We have some events planned, and we’re just trying to grow our presence right now. It’s pretty late into the semester, so we can’t really do as much as we would have, but next semester seems promising.”

Celia Peña-Gómez, a second-year master’s student studying international affairs and the group’s graduate liaison, said GW’s graduate programs often lack Latino, immigrant and first-generation students, emphasizing the need for the group to attract graduate students. She said the organization plans to attract undergraduate and graduate students through Instagram Live discussions about current events and social media posts.

“A lot can be said about the lack of Latinx voices and immigrant voices, first-generation Americans, in the graduate community,” she said. “The higher up you go in degrees, the less you hear their voices. And I think that an organization like this has been a long time coming in representing the graduate community that has been very quiet for so long.”

Freshman Gabriel Madison, the vice president of the chapter and a business major, said all of the organization’s work is intersectional, with immigration often overlapping with many other social issues, like incarceration, access to health care and higher education.

“We’re trying to not only uplift the voices of undocumented immigrants but also incorporate everybody into our community as an open and safe space,” he said. “We have the luxury of speaking up for those who can’t and their fight is our fight. So we are all in the same collective community fighting for one another’s rights.”

Junior Jennifer Cuyuch, the chapter’s social media director and a political communication major, said the group is trying to connect with other universities’ chapters to create a larger DMV network. She said the group plans to reach out to local high schools and universities, like George Mason and Georgetown universities, that already have chapters of United We Dream.

She said collaboration with other United We Dream chapters will push their efforts to a wider network.

She said the group will use a Google form sign-up sheet to reach out to students who were interested in the work United We Dream did in 2019, and an interest form will be created soon and posted on Instagram to recruit members. 

Cuyuch said the group will also use its social media to advertise for larger United We Dream events, like webinars that include training on topics like grassroots fundraising. She said these events will help undocumented immigrants and those who want to become allies through education. 

She said the group plans to create a mutual aid fund and resource bank for undocumented students at GW this fall. The resource bank will include information like organizations that advocate for immigration, scholarships open to DACA students and common questions and answers on immigration legislation, she said.

Some of the group’s savings from the mutual aid fund will be used specifically for DACA renewals, which currently cost DACA recipients $495 every year

“Some of the other organizations in the DMV area already have these in place as part of their university,” Cuyuch said. “These are resources that are provided by the administration. And that’s an area where GW is lacking that we are trying to step in and try to provide these resources.”

Tiffany Garcia contributed reporting.

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