Immigration continues to be a controversial topic in the public opinion just as voters around the country cast their ballots during the current presidential election.
Leaders from the California Community Colleges and the Los Angeles Community College District advocated for more aggressive support and resources for their students without legal immigration status.
Members of the community college system in California culminated the Undocumented Student Week of Action Summit with an exchange of ideas and solutions to encourage and uplift these students in their pursue of higher education.
“We’ve had multiple activities this week all aimed at advocating, providing support, resources, awareness for our undocumented community not just here in LACCD, but indeed throughout California,” said Francisco Rodriguez, LACCD chancellor. “We organized webinars and virtual panels that were directed to our students, faculty, counselors and administrators in our district and statewide.”
The LACCD represents the most significant number of undocumented students in a single district in the entire country.
“We serve almost 10,000 undocumented students in the LACC district. That’s more than the CSU and UC systems combined,” Gabriel Buelna, member of the LACCD board of trustees said.
This fact presented the opportunity to create a movement that could reach as many students in the Los Angeles area as possible as the leaders attempt to tackle systemic racism within the community college system.
“This is a very important week for us. This is a week of action. This is a critical part of our language particularly when we are talking about higher education, about undocumented students, and about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community Colleges Chancellor said. “Action is a keyword that we have to place a focus on and to hold us accountable to.”
For the California community colleges there couldn’t be a starker motivator to address their students and offer them support given the considerable number of undocumented students in the Los Angeles district alone.
“We have the largest number of undocumented students of any higher education system in America. It is our responsibility to speak the loudest for our students,” Chancellor Ortiz Oakley said. “I’m very proud of the work that’s happening here this week. It’s continuing to lead the way toward a better life for all of us by us creating a better opportunity for them, all of our lives are better.”
Supporting and providing resources for this community represents challenges especially when the federal government pushes back against the effort, but leaders like California Governor Gavin Newsome and Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley are strong and outspoken allies of these students.
“Our board of governors has not only agreed that undocumented students should be a priority, but that they are very passionate about it. The last two governors that I have worked for, Governor Brown and Governor Newsom, have also been very supportive of our undocumented students as we recognize they are important for our future,” Ortiz Oakley said.
Undocumented students still suffer the stigma of not having the proper paperwork to be full-fledged citizens. But having allies in the higher education field becomes a ray of hope as they navigate their college education.
“We don’t get to decide who comes to us for support, who comes to us for opportunity, and we are talking about opportunity for everyone regardless of what background they come from,” Chancellor Ortiz Oakley said. “And this week in particular, we are talking about undocumented students.”
Chancellor Ortiz Oakley stressed the importance of bringing down the stigmas and the judgment passed on these students who simply want to belong without fear or shame.
“These students make-up a large portion of our communities. Regardless of how they got here, regardless of your beliefs or positions on immigration policy, they are here, they are with us, they are part of our communities. They and their families are tremendous assets to our communities,” Ortiz Oakley said.
Investing in these students’ higher education is a win for their communities as many of these students will remain where they grew up and become part of California’s workforce, according to Ortiz Oakley.
“Our work is to take these assets, take these amazingly talented, committed & passionate individuals and give them opportunity. Opportunity to not only support themselves and their families, but opportunity for them to support our communities, our state, our country. To make us all better,” Chancellor Ortiz Oakley said.
In an effort to allocate CARE Act funds to all students in the state, Chancellor Ortiz Oakley sued Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education who wouldn’t allow the California Community Colleges to assist undocumented students with federal funds. Chancellor Ortiz Oakley won in court.
“It is not a vision for those of us who have opportunity, it is a vision of success for every student because every one of our students matters to our future. I’m very proud of the way our system has responded and very proud of the way in the face of this opposition from Washington D.C., we continue to protect and value our undocumented students. But they need more than protection. They need clear opportunity.”
The failure of the federal government to act and pass a comprehensive immigration reform continues to keep these members of our communities in the shadows and without a voice in the democratic process.
“We are better for having them in our community, we are better for having them in our colleges and we are better for them having the opportunity to fully participate in our society and in our democracy,” Chancellor Ortiz Oakley said. “This isn’t about the right or the left. This isn’t about blue or red. This is about building a better community, a better California and a better America.”
While this issue affects a diverse group of undocumented students, the consequences of these issues do not solely focus on one demographic group.
“This is not just a Latino issue. This is an issue for all. Under resourced and underrepresented, we need the members of our community to come together. If we allow one segment of our population to be underrepresented or to be left behind, then we all get left behind,” Ortiz Oakley said.
While focusing on inequality and racial disparity, Chancellor Rodriguez was forceful in his remarks about change within the system that can be inclusive for students and faculty within the college system in California.
“In our work together in addressing these inequities have led to disparate educational outcomes and we have to address them and that requires serious conversations about policies, practices and the very structures that we sometimes support that have fueled these inequities,” Chancellor Rodriguez said. “Without these honest and sometimes brutal conversations about power and privilege and our own leadership for these responsibilities, we run the risk of further bifurcation and further perpetuation of the very inequalities and disparities that we seek to disrupt.”
The current political climate can be discouraging for those who are not free, but the resounding words of allies in this panel affirm the resolve of those undocumented students to push forward in their endeavors.
“There are many people that care about the success of you and our community, that know your story firsthand and that’s why representation matters, and at the end of the day we want to ensure that everyone in this country and every one of you, that no matter where you come from, what you look like, what language you speak, or what your legal status is, the American dream belongs to all of us, not just a few. We have to fight, and it is a fight worth fighting and know that you are not alone,” Wendy Carrillo, California Assemblywoman said.