The Student Immigrant Alliance (SIA) club, previously known as the Student Immigrant Movement, is a undocumented student led organization on campus that provides resources and opportunities for immigrant students at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The Student Immigrant Movement club had been deactivated due to a lack of student involvement. In 2015, Renata Teodoro, the current student advocacy coordinator, was searching for some type of support on campus for undocumented students. At the time, she had found none, and when wanting to start a new club, was given the option to renew the Student Immigrant Movement club, later renamed. She did so, and along with other students, faculty, administrators, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and University Advancement also helped start the Immigrant Task Force dedicated to helping undocumented students on campus. At the time, they worked to engage both documented and undocumented students on campus. They provided resources to undocumented students such as the Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix Immigrant Achievers Scholarship, a scholarship that is non-discriminatory of immigration status to financially support undocumented students that are not eligible for federal financial aid.
After Teodoro graduated in 2017, the Division of Student Affairs created the student advocacy coordinator position for Teodoro to continue her work supporting undocumented students, as well as the student center coordinators and the multicultural clubs.
Currently, the SIA club strives to create a welcoming and safe community that empowers undocumented students of all ethnicities and backgrounds and raises awareness on campus. SIA has organized many events, including a meet and greet for undocumented immigrants to bond and share their stories, called the Know Your Rights Workshop with Casa Latinx. The workshop, led by Professor Andrew Leong, was meant to inform students of their rights when interacting with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most recently, a joint graduation celebration ceremony with Casa Latinx and the Latino Leadership Opportunity Program was held, celebrating the accomplishments and success of both the undocumented and Latinx communities.
They have also created the UndocuAlly Butterfly Movement on campus, meant for “UndocuAllies,” or supporters of the movement, to advocate for the undocumented community while keeping the allies informed with up-to-date information. SIA provides a list of “UndocuAllies” with weekly information updates on current events and opportunities to get involved both on and off campus regarding this specific issue.
The movement currently has over 95 UndocuAllies made up of faculty, staff, students, and student organizations and clubs. SIA has made this year’s focus recruiting faculty and staff members to make students feel comfortable talking to teachers who have the UndocuAlly stickers outside of their doors.
Jeniffer Vivar Wong, current SIA Club President, states “the SIA club welcomes anyone who supports or is a part of the undocumented community to join our club family. We work hard to be the go-to club for the undocumented students when they are seeking a safe space, support and long lasting friendships."
Meet the SIA Students
Jeniffer Vivar Wong
Jeniffer Vivar Wong is currently a sophomore at UMass Boston double majoring in management with a concentration in accounting and Latin American and Iberian studies with a translations track. Vivar Wong came to the United States from Guatemala at five years old on a tourist visa. She said, “My parents told me we were coming to visit Disneyland, which I have yet to visit.” She grew up never knowing that she was undocumented, just knowing that she had to “behave and not get in trouble." She found out at 15 years old that she was undocumented, and remembers the moment President Obama passed the executive order of The Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, which protected undocumented immigrants who came to the US under the age of 16 who applied for the protection from deportation. “From then on, it was like we had this new hope,” she stated.
After that, Vivar Wong took a gap year and worked two jobs to save money for college, and then applied to UMass Boston. She first got involved with the Immigrant Student Task Force and was later with SIA. She currently interns for Teodoro as the Immigrant Student Coordinator, where she communicates with and provides resources for undocumented students.
In addition to all of this, she is also the president of the SIA club.
“That’s my favorite part... I’ve met so many undocumented students and my original intent was to come here [to UMass Boston] because it was so diverse and I was like ‘maybe I’ll find somebody.’ It’s hard to just be only undocumented person that you know. There’s no one you can relate to, so getting to know all of these people, especially through my role in the club, is liberating and makes the space that I’m in feel more like home,” she stated. “Now I don't have to go through all of this stuff alone and it’s hard."
When looking at the current political climate surrounding undocumented immigrants, she states, “I always think that it's very saddening to not be viewed at deserving of this citizenship even though I feel that at five years old this is my home."
Maryam Altaf is currently a freshman at UMass Boston majoring in international relations. Altaf was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to the United States at the age of two with her family. They came to New York legally with the I-94 permit, or the Arrival and Departure Record, which permits entry to the US. They also had an L-1 visa, which is a business visa for her father, and L-2 visas, which is a dependent visa for the rest of her family. Her parent started a business in Staten Island and were on the pathway to citizenship. Later in 2006, her father had then been rejected for a green card, a permit allowing a non-US citizen to live and work permanently in the US. At the time, they had appealed this for seven years.
Her brother had been detained by ICE at one point when wearing a traditional Muslim dress at a Greyhound bus station. As a result, both her father and brother had to give up their passports. They were placed on the deportation list. After years of appeals and lawyers, her father was able to finally get off of the list.
After 2012, Altaf and her three siblings applied for DACA and all received it, except for one of her brothers. It has currently been over two years since her brother had applied and he has yet to receive a response.
She states, “The system is so broken... There are many people that say ‘well, they should come here legally,’ but there are people who come here legally and now we’re living in this environment where if you don’t have papers, it's your fault, but it’s actually not our fault. We did everything that was required of us.”
Altaf clearly remembers September 5, 2017, because not only was it her first day of college, but it was also the day that President Trump repealed DACA. “I remember I was really confused because I didn't know how I was going to live knowing that I could get deported tomorrow,” she said. Altaf applied to five universities in the United Kingdom out of fear of what might happen if she got deported and later on decided that she would rather stay and fight for her rights.
“I always get asked why did you come to the US? Why didn’t you stay back in Saudi Arabia or go back to Pakistan? If I go back to my country, I have nothing. I’m too American for them," she said.
"My parents moved to the US for education because it is something that they really value,” she explains. “People who say I shouldn’t be here, I usually say why not? Why should I not be here? I’m not harming you. I’m not doing anything to you. I believe that we should all have equal rights.”
Allie Rojas is currently a junior at UMass Boston majoring in political science. Rojas came to the United States at four years old with her sister and single mother from a small indigenous town in Mexico to escape poverty. Her mother’s cousin offered to pay someone to bring them over the border to the United States. They crossed the border in a car. “People are smuggled in the back and I was in the front seat with a guy giving me candy to keep me quiet,” she said. They arrived in Florida and stayed for a few months while her mother worked in agriculture.
Her mother then met her stepfather and eventually moved to Georgia. Rojas grew up in Georgia, and it was not until ninth grade that she finally realized what being undocumented meant. “Everyone was getting their driver's license and I couldn’t do that, and I was kind of disappointed and didn’t try as hard in school because I was like ‘what’s the point? I can go to college anyways because I’m not documented.’” She explained how that played a major role in her ninth and tenth grade year. “I didn’t have any hope at all, and at that time there wasn’t DACA.” In eleventh grade, she decided that she was going to try to apply to scholarships and find someway to go to college. By the time her senior year came along, President Obama had finally passed DACA. “That’s when I had hope for the first time that I was finally going to be able to go to college,” she stated.
Because college is too expensive, she tried to find other ways to be able to still get in education. She found her biological father who lived in Massachusetts and reached out to him for the first time to possibly move up to Massachusetts since DACA are offered in-state tuition. Finally, she moved to Massachusetts with only $700 in her pocket to start with.
She then lived with family members and was able to get a job as a program assistant for the city of Chelsea and eventually as an on-site manager for Chelsea community schools.
After three years, she quit her job and started at UMass Boston as a full-time student. She eventually got involved with the SIA club through Teodoro.
With only one year left for her permit, Rojas is trying her hardest to finish her degree in case it does not get renewed.
“A lot of us set our bar very low to avoid being disappointed, and this is something that we all have to do for our mental well-being. We can’t expect the best outcome; we always expect the worst and I think for many people it does affect their mental well-being, being in limbo. The not knowing. Is it going to get canceled? Is it going to get revoked? Am I going to have enough time? I don’t have faith anymore,” she stated.
Fernanda Oliveira Costa is currently a student at UMass Boston majoring in psychology and minoring in public policy. She came to the United States from Brazil at 15 years old with her mother to join her three sisters who were already in the US temporarily.
The family did not intend to live here permanently, but some overstayed their visas. As time went on, her family gradually went back to Brazil. Costa, who had faced several hardships and traumas in Brazil, decided to stay in the US for safety, to pursue education, and to pursue a better and safer future for herself. After less than two years since her arrival, Costa’s mother returned to Brazil. Costa has been financially independent since.
For years, she lived under the shadows and was unable to go to college or work legally, which led her to do domestic work in order to survive. “There was always a sense of rejection and distorted identity I had to live with, as if I’m not worthy,” Costa stated.
It wasn’t until after the DACA program came out that Costa was finally able to go to college, work legally, and “live a normal life.” She worked two to three jobs for several years in order to finally get her associate's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences with a concentration in psychology from Middlesex Community College, and continued on to UMass Boston to work on finishing her bachelor's degree.
“Not only was I able to feel pardoned, and that I could come out of the shadows and live a normal life, I was also able to start unleashing my fullest potential, and pursuing and developing a career,” she expressed.
Costa then had to renew her documents after DACA got rescinded. She had to wait nearly eight months, five of those unemployed with times when there was no money to even pay for food or housing, for the renewal of her documents. Through her involvement in the SIA club, Teodoro helped her reach out to Senator Elizabeth Warren who was able to help with the situation.
“The delayed renewal of my documents caused a significant amount of distress and dysfunction in my life, but was also an opportunity to fight harder and grow even more humble. Living for so many years under the shadows really distorts our identity, but seeking to be myself and asking for help helped me succeed. All the challenges I have faced have made me increasingly fearless, stronger and grateful,” she explains.
When thinking of what it is like being undocumented, she states: “It is both exciting and stressful being a DREAMer. Not knowing what tomorrow will look like takes a lot of energy and feels unsettling. It is, however, allowing me an opportunity to be courageous and restless about resisting tyranny and fighting back for real justice, human dignity, and community development.” This has surfaced through her advocacy efforts on social media and by running marathons with mobilizing messages on her shirt, most recently New York City Marathon 2017 and Boston Marathon 2018.
“Lives of DREAMers are basically on hold. All I know is that I have less than two years until I have to renew my documents again. With the rapid change of laws, I don't know what will happen after my papers expire. The US has been my home for over half of my life. I thought Brazil was home because I born and partially raised there, until I got a chance to visit it last year and felt significantly foreign and anxious about the unfamiliarity. This is home, this is where I have been building dreams,” she said.
Costa has one message for the surrounding community: “I want to encourage and challenge everyone who is willing to have compassion to reach out on local and national levels and to get educated on what is DACA and what it means in current times to be a DREAMer. Seek to learn about our stories. We’re stronger together, let us stand with each other and move forward.”