NSights Blog

Bridging education and immigration

A panelist for the Feb. 25 discussion, "U.S. Immigration Policy and Democracy," sees it as an opportunity to bridge the topics of DACA, immigration and democracy

Through the advocacy of students, faculty members and the willingness of administrators, the Social Services Coordinator position was created at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2016. The first position in the State of Nevada with a mission to support all students by bridging education and immigration. In the midst of anti-immigrant rhetoric and the uncertainty of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I began to serve as the Social Services Coordinator with a mission to support all students by coordinating campus and community resources. I knew it would be a unique challenge in connecting with undocumented students who have unnoticeably navigated through the university without or limited support over the years but it was a journey I was willing to take.

Growing up in an immigrant family, we often found few allies outside of our homes so when I was received with support in my new role, I felt relieved.  Like my students, we navigated the university with caution and intentionality. I didn’t know who would be supportive of my goal in serving all students that included undocumented and DACA students. So I initially met with dozens of departments and faculty members to better understand the support for undocumented students at the university. In the many thoughtful and vulnerable conversations I’ve had with faculty members, I often disclosed how my family were separated by immigration. My self-disclosure was a way to humanize an issue that is perceived divisive. Oftentimes, individuals who are not directly impacted by U.S. immigration policies are able to distance themselves from these issues. Immigration impacts Nevadans in various ways. An estimated one in seven children in Nevada, born in the U.S., live with at least one undocumented family member (American Immigration Council, 2020). Behind those numbers are our neighbors, essential workers and students. By fall of 2017, it was nearly impossible to avoid the impacts of immigration policies on our community. 

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced to rescind DACA. On that day the fear and anxiety was palpable through the brick buildings on our campus. Despite the uncertainty of DACA, the University of Nevada, Reno’s vision is to strive to utilize research and creativity that focuses on vital issues of our time. In collaboration with Student Services, we introduced the UndocuAlly Workshop where staff and faculty members gain awareness of the disparities and challenges undocumented students face in higher education. Since then I have facilitated the training for more than 700 participants on our campus and surrounding community. The reception of the UndocuAlly Workshop has been received with enthusiasm but with a hint of despair. It is easy to hyper focus on these larger issues and feel that any effort will go unnoticed. Luckily, I am here to offer you some optimism. The campus-wide events and community engagement surrounding issues on immigration on our campus are significant to undocumented students. 

In the last four years, I have become increasingly aware of the unique barriers undocumented student face in achieving their academic dreams. In addition to the paralyzing fear that comes with having an undocumented status these students struggle to plan for a future. It seems immigration policies are constantly changing and with that anxiety about an uncertain future continues to exist. I have supported students in obtaining professional licensing because AB 275, a Nevada state legislative bill that passed in 2019, which allows individuals to apply for professional licensing regardless of their immigration status. Undocumented students in Nevada can now plan in obtaining professional licensing utilizing their educational degree because of the civic engagement efforts from local immigrant advocates.

Although it has been four years since I began working as the Social Services Coordinator, the discussions with faculty members have continued. Instead of assessing the undocumented support on our campus, our conversation focuses on how we can do better in serving all students with special consideration of the unique needs of students who are impacted by immigration. Among the undocumented community, there is a sense of relief with the legitimization of DACA but our students continue to proceed with cautious optimism. To provide inclusive support for undocumented students, it is critical understand the diversity within migrant communities. 

In collaboration with the Diversity & Inclusion Office, I will be presenting on the erasures of the diverse voices in the immigrant community and provide various ways on how to support undocumented students on our campus and in Nevada. Please join us on February 25th at 5:00pm, for the panel discussion, U.S. Immigration Policy and Democracy: Revising DACA and Undocumented Status.

NOTE: Through the generous gift from The Orchard House foundation, the Emergency Support for Students Fund was created to provide financial support for students who are ineligible to receive funds from the CARES Act and federal financial aid. 

Jahahi Mazariego headshot
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