The Maneater

Vargas’ promise to return inspires MU undocumented students

“I will come to this university on my own dime and become involved with the undocumented students here,” Vargas said.

MU students approached microphones, their voices often shaking because of the emotional weight of revealing their undocumented status to the crowd at Jesse Auditorium. In response, American journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas made a heavy promise.

“I will come to this university on my own dime and become involved with the undocumented students here,” Vargas said the night of Oct. 1. “Yes, I am here illegally. But I, as a person, am not illegal. Words like ‘illegal’...kind of hang in the air, and eventually they find their way into you. And they start to frame the way you see yourself, and the way you think of others.”

Vargas said he can’t explain the overwhelming numbness of not embracing his mother for over 12 years, or witnessing first-hand the ignorance of most Americans when talking about our broken immigration system. He described himself as a walking, uncomfortable conversation.

“The forums and race relation discussions here at Mizzou will never accomplish anything if the only people talking together are people of color, and white people do not engage or are not part of the conversation,” Vargas said. “I feel like I traffic an empathy for people who only listen to Fox News.”

In 2011, tired of hiding behind a fake social security card and against the judgment of his lawyers and family members, Vargas came out of the closet as an undocumented immigrant. On June 29, 2011, the New York Times published “Outlaw: My life as an undocumented immigrant,” a tell-all account Vargas wrote about his life as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. Vargas wants to educate those with the luxury of citizenship about how damaged the immigration system actually is.

“I sometimes think, what if I just self-deport myself, Mitt Romney style,” Vargas said. “But as I’m talking here, someone is getting arrested on the highway, someone is being deported and families are being ripped apart. We are more than pieces of paper.”

MU students Andrew Abarca and Joel Dalton, founders of the organization Students for the Equal Education of DREAMers, or S.E.E.D., are taking Vargas’ promise of aid seriously.

Seeking to erase the roadblocks undocumented students face, as well as to change the negative rhetoric surrounding them, Abarca and Dalton plan to create a scholarship specifically for undocumented students who are currently forced to pay out-of-state tuition, even if they are a resident of Missouri.

“One of the main goals is the ability to talk to the administration and provide for undocumented students through an increase in student fees,” Abarca said. “Just $2.50 a semester goes a long way, especially in Missouri with the restrictions on education.”

Abarca and Dalton said they will be determined to make a change and will communicate their intentions strongly to MU administration. Some undocumented students qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and have lived in this country and benefitted from its education system. When the time comes to apply for college, they are often barred from financial aid and restricted from applying to institutions altogether.

“DACA helps facilitate these students, gives them the ability to get in-state tuition, but Missouri currently bans them from in-state tuition,” Dalton said. “We did the math, and if we raise the student fees to $2.50 a semester, we would be able to send approximately 20 undocumented students to Mizzou and offer them room and board. We’re going to send letters to representatives, maybe go to the capital and do rallies and truly do some grassroots work here.”

Abarca and Dalton want S.E.E.D to be a community effort through all of Columbia.

“We already have people signing up who don’t attend Mizzou, and we have a lot of professors and staff members who are interested in being involved,” Abarca said. “So I think this can be bigger than Mizzou, bigger than Columbia, and who knows where this organization will go. We have big plans.”

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