Activism for undocumented youth in America is one of the most vocal student-led social movements on campus, and yesterday University students continued to expand the nationwide movement.

Five individuals spoke on a panel at the School of Social Work to discuss national immigration issues and their experiences as undocumented residents. The event, hosted by the Social Work Allies for Immigrant Rights and the Coalition for Tuition Equality — a student-led movement encouraging the University to adopt more inclusive policies for undocumented students — aimed to raise awareness for the 12 million undocumented people living in the United States.

The youngest panelist, Aketzaly, a student at a local high school, teared up while talking about the bullying she has endured at school and the lack of support she received from her teachers.

“Counselors should have training and be more aware,” Aketzaly said in an interview after the event.

All the panelists discussed their involvement in various forms of activism, a few have even taken part in civil disobedience to gain public recognition.

Panelist Dayanna Rebolledo, a junior at Marygrove College in Detroit, said she has participated in a number of civil disobedience protests. She was arrested along with seven other activists in Georgia for blocking traffic outside Georgia State University in Atlanta and was detained for more than 27 hours in isolation with the threat of being deported, before being eventually released.

Rebolledo said despite her difficult situation, she believes acts like these are necessary to gain public attention to issues surrounding undocumented residents.

Franco added that civil disobedience is important because it is a key way to get sponsorship, make a statement, create awareness and prompt legislative attention.

The panel also discussed the difficulty of being open about being undocumented.

“It was not something I talked about,” Rebolledo said. “I didn’t identify myself as undocumented.”

Maria Ibarra, a senior at the University of Detroit Mercy, didn’t know she was undocumented until her senior year of high school. She said once she found out, she was hesitant to be open about her status because she was worried about what would happen to her family.

Many higher education institutions don’t provide in-state tuition to undocumented students, making it difficult for many to pursue an education. Ibarra said she had planned to come to the University, but upon learning of her undocumented status, she had to alter her plans.

She added that she needed to rely on scholarships to pay for her education and the cost is still difficult to manage.

The panelists closed by discussing how the undocumented youth movement is growing in the United States, adding that many states are seeing the emergence of their own movements advocating for federal aid in higher education.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act proposes citizenship for undocumented youth who meet three major provisions — the individual must have relocated to the United States before the age of 16, be pursuing a higher education or military service and must have lived in the country for at least five years from the date the bill is enacted.

“People think it will encourage illegal immigration,” Ibarra said. “This isn’t true because you wouldn’t qualify.”

These groups are also attempting to challenge the stigma undocumented youth face, pointing to the work of the Coalition for Tuition Equality on campus.

Ibarra said she hopes the University will take a more active role in undocumented youth activism.

Franco agreed, noting that if the University implements this in-state policy, “others will follow its example.”

Social Work student Martha Valadez encouraged students to take action against the University’s “oppressive policies,” adding that “an attack against this community is an attack on all communities.”

Editor’s note: In order to protect the identity of one of the panelists, the panelist’s last name and high-school affiliation have been removed from the article.

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