Palestine Solidarity Committee and University Leadership Initiative discuss issues facing undocumented students

Will Clark

The Palestine Solidarity Committee hosted a “teach-in” event last night on campus with the University Leadership Initiative to discuss and examine issues facing undocumented people, especially undocumented students.

ULI’s “teach-in” consisted of a presentation and discussion of the organization’s work in the community and ways to get involved with their efforts. 

PSC member Mohammed Nabulsi, a third-year law student, said his organization and ULI face similar issues.

“The most important lesson we gained from the meeting is that our struggles are inextricable,” Nabulsi said. “We need to as Palestinians and as allies as Palestinians show up for the struggle of undocumented people in this country.”

ULI, which led the majority of the meeting, is an organization founded by undocumented UT students in 2005 with the goal of empowering undocumented youth.

Estefania Ponce, an American Sign Language interpreting junior at Austin Community College, said as an undocumented student, she’s fighting for more than her own future.

“Not only are we fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our families,” Ponce said.

Ponce said another program ULI advocates for is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that provides temporary legal status for young undocumented people. DACA could be in jeopardy, Ponce said, with the incoming presidential administration.

“We’re not able to tell them exactly what’s going to happen,” Ponce said. “We want to relieve that fear. It’s our duty to be hopeful.”

Ponce said she has talked to several lawyers who believe there is a high likelihood the program will be dismantled.

“It’s a fragile program,” Ponce said. “It’s very vulnerable.”

ULI member Karla Peredo, an international relations and government junior, said although the program may be taken away, they will continue to push for undocumented immigrant protection.

“With DACA possibly going away, we’re going to go out into the community more and ask for something more,” Peredo said. “It’s okay if DACA leaves, we’re going to ask for something more.”

Peredo said another struggle facing many undocumented high school students is counselors who might lack resources and knowledge about the process of applying as an undocumented student.

Ponce said empowering and inspiring undocumented students to graduate and receive an education is on everyone’s shoulders.

“It’s on teachers and it’s on the parents, but I also think it’s on us, it’s on the youth,” Ponce said.  “It’s on those that are already here in a way to inspire those that are in high school or middle school or even elementary school.”

ULI members then showed a video in which protesters stood in front of a bus of undocumented people being taken to ICE detention centers. After the video, ULI members asked for reactions from the room of PSC members.  

“I’d rather be pepper-sprayed than have my family separated,” Nabulsi said as he fought back tears. “That was a very emotional video for me, and I think it’s a wake-up call for us in the room who aren’t undocumented.”

Newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez has said she will work to diminish ICE’s power in Austin, and Maya Guevara, Latin American studies junior, said ULI will continue to work to end the program.

“I believe that [Hernandez] has said in the past that she would end collaboration [with ICE], so it’s about us holding her to that,” Guevara said.