SEED aims to be a voice for undocumented immigrants

“I’d ask them a question: Do you think everyone deserves a chance at higher education?” co-founder Joel Dalton said.

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The idea for Students for the Equal Education of Dreamers started from an English class titled the Rhetoric of Human Rights and was never expected to become a real-life campus organization.

“Our task for the semester was to create some sort of mock non-profit organization that changed the rhetoric around a human rights issue of our choice,” co-founder Michaela Marshall Dungey said. “It wasn’t until this semester that there was the push to make it a real organization and not just a class project.”

The initial idea for the organization came from the work of five students, but only senior Michaela Marshall Dungey and graduate student Joel Dalton pushed the idea to become a campus organization. One of the other students who worked on the idea is still at MU and the other has graduated. Senior Andrew Abarca later joined after they decided to make the group into an official organization

The organization is only a few months old, and the co-founders are still working to be formally approved and recognized by MU as an organization.

SEED aims to spread awareness to students on what it means to be undocumented and about the barriers undocumented immigrants face entering the education system.

“Most states in the U.S. don’t allow you to go to college if you’re an undocumented immigrant, so even if you have the financial means to pay for college without getting financial aid or scholarships, you just may be not allowed to go at all,” Marshall Dungey said. “In states that do allow undocumented immigrants to attend college, just the simple fact of being undocumented and having to be wary of how that affects their life.”

Another goal of the organization is advocacy. They would like to host rallies and protests on campus and potentially lobby the state capital for changes to policies on undocumented immigrants.

For now, the three are pushing for an MU scholarship fund that would allow undocumented students to attend MU at a lower cost. Currently, undocumented immigrants can attend MU, but at a large cost, Abarca said.

“You pay a student fee for the rec,” Marshall Dungey said. “You would pay like a $2.50 student fee to go toward this scholarship fund.”

For Abarca, he relates personally to SEED’s mission because extended relatives are undocumented immigrants and have to face many challenges.

“My grandmother, who is in her late 60s, has to be forced to work still because she’s unable to receive (social) benefits that US citizens are,” Abarca said. “Being single and having her own house is very difficult for her and to even think about moving toward not working because of struggles and barriers that she goes through. My cousins aren’t able to attend college because after high school, they were told they need to go to work because they weren’t going to receive any funding.”

When Marshall Dungey was younger, she had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala, which she said impacted the way she viewed immigration. She also took a class on human rights and undocumented immigrants from women’s and gender studies professor Rebecca Martinez, who became the organization’s advisor.

“It really narrowed in on a lot of the rhetoric around undocumented immigration, and the reality of who undocumented immigrants are and it specifically focused on Latino/Latina immigrants,” Marshall Dungey said. “Taking that class really opened my eyes to the really harsh reality that immigrants face in this country.”

Upon the creation of the NGO in class, Joel Dalton noted that the topic of undocumented immigrants stood out to the group because of the large amounts of injustice they saw in how the community was portrayed and represented.

Dalton also discussed what he sees as the defined boundaries and arbitrary lines of what it means to be an American.

“What does it mean to belong and what does it mean to be an American?” Dalton said. “I think that’s something everyone can ask themselves when talking about these sorts of questions. I hope it raises an awareness that undocumented folks are more so like us than they are different from us, and that people can start to see that as well.”

Abarca said learning about his family members’ experiences made him realize that he was privileged to even have the opportunity to attend college.

“I need to use it to educate others and educate myself more about how college should be a right for everyone but not everyone is able to receive that right,” Abarca said.

As the organization continues to work on getting off the ground, they are focusing on educating others. However, they hope to see SEED become a community organization and partner with other social justice organizations. They hope to be able to push for change in a more direct way.

During the Missouri Students Association presidential debate Oct. 23, the three presidential slates were asked how they would advocate for the needs of students affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

The DACA policy grants certain undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and exemption from deportation if they entered the U.S. before June 2007 and before the age of 16.

However, the Missouri House Bill 3 passed, which took away the ability for DACA students to pay in-state tuition because of their immigration status.

All three MSA slates could not answer the question clearly. After the debate, they expressed that they have educated themselves on the issue.

“I want to see the org create actual change and put pressure on policy makers, make some administrators rethink how they’re doing their jobs in order to have a more equitable higher-education system,” Dalton said.

Dalton said everyone should realize the importance of equal education for all, even undocumented students, because they contribute to the public good by paying into sales tax and social security without ever seeing any of that back.

“I’d ask (students) a question: ‘Do you think everyone deserves a chance at higher education?’” Dalton said. “And if they say yes, which hopefully they do, because I believe everyone should deserve a chance at higher education, then why not undocumented students?’”

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