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ODI event highlights the experience of undocumented immigrants

Bradley’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) hosted Statuses United: Undocumented and Ally Space on Thursday night at the Garrett Center. The gathering focused on creating unity for students who may be undocumented or come from an undocumented background.

Jhoanna Vega-Rocha, ODI’s assistant director of diversity and inclusion, and Thalia Novoa, assistant director of admissions, led the event, which set out to provide a safe space and community of support for students who may be undocumented or come from mixed-status families (families with a combination of U.S. citizens, residents and undocumented people).

The topic of immigration status is complex and entangled in political policy, which often leads to the issue being dehumanized. With this in mind, Statuses United sought to focus on the mental health of those with undocumented backgrounds.

Throughout the event, Vega-Rocha, Novoa and a small group of attendees shared their experiences, stories and perspectives about the undocumented community.

Novoa, who worked in immigration law before coming to Bradley, said the discussion was an important learning opportunity — especially for those in attendance who may have been outside the undocumented community.

“It really humanizes [the issue] when we talk about stories or talk about what’s happening in the community and kind of what’s really the facts,” Novoa said. “I think, a lot of times, we just see what’s in the news or see what’s on social media and take that as informational, but when you really get to hear things and really get to learn about facts, it just brings it together … It’s really important to create that community and humanize it.”

Oftentimes, those with an undocumented status do not share their experiences or stories with others in order to protect themselves or their family, and Novoa highlighted the many difficulties they face.

“It’s very polarizing, and you also want to make sure that it’s safe,” Novoa said. “Whether it’s you yourself or your parents or your friends or your family, you’re taught from a young age that people might not like you just because of your status. And your parents can go away — your parents could be deported if you say anything.”

The setting of Statuses United provided an opportunity for those in the undocumented community to open up from what Vega-Rocha described as a “sense of invisibility,” which can be extremely mentally taxing.

“While you keep that secret, you’re also lonely, and your mental health suffers,” Novoa said. “Some undocumented people are very courageous and they’re very brave, but not everyone talks about it, not everyone sees it in a very positive light, so that’s why I think a lot of people stay out of it.”

Near the end of the one-hour meeting, the group discussed ways that U.S. citizens and documented people could educate themselves and be supportive of those who are undocumented, including Instagram pages and books.

Novoa said that one of the biggest ways to become an ally of the undocumented community is through the education process.

“There’s a lot of places you can listen to webinars; there are a lot of great books you can read from undocumented stories,” Novoa said. “I think it really is about humanizing when you hear it, when you listen to it; it really brings it into perspective.”

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