Rutgers trains students to empathize with illegal immigrants

Rutgers University recently debuted a program to teach students and staff about the illegal immigrant community, and at least one administrator wants to make the workshop mandatory.

The “DREAM Zone” program, a three-hour interactive event that originated at New York University, expanded to Rutgers in April, according to The Daily Targum.

During the program, students and faculty were taught various topics pertaining to the illegal immigrant community, including the history of migration to the U.S. and legislation that impacts Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students.

[RELATED: UCSB students demand more resources for illegal immigrants]

Yuriana Garcia Tellez, the senior program coordinator of undocumented student services at Rutgers, showed a film about undocumented NYU students and their struggle to afford college, telling the Targum that the purpose was to humanize illegal immigrants so that participants can better empathize with them.

So enamored is Garcia Tellez with the program, in fact, that she wants to make it mandatory for all Rutgers students.

“I think trainings like these are important to start conversations about how to begin supporting undocumented students in institutions, especially for people who are going into higher education,” she said. “The training should be mandatory.”

[RELATED: Student gov to consider mandatory diversity course after protests]

At one point in the proceedings, participants were instructed to line up in two rows and start a dialogue about what the American dream means to them, which led to a larger discussion about the balance between American exceptionalism and simple “Americanism.”

The program also included an analysis of a New Jersey bill to give illegal immigrant students eligibility for in-state financial aid, which has passed both houses of the state legislature and is currently awaiting approval from Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy.

Another session discussed various methods to “check” how people talk about the undocumented community through social media.

[RELATED: Oberlin promises ‘safe spaces’ for illegal immigrant students]

Andrea Vacciano, a junior at Rutgers, told Campus Reform that she opposes the initiative, particularly the social media element.

“Checking how people talk about immigration sounds like an awful tactic to police speech,” Vacciano said. “I believe in treating undocumented students like people, but I think Rutgers should instead be encouraging them to get their papers.”

Aviv Khavich, a junior at Rutgers and an Israeli immigrant who was fired from the school newspaper in 2016 for using the term “illegal alien,” added that Rutgers has essentially become an advocacy group for illegal immigrants. 

“Rutgers should not be incentivizing breaking the law,” he told Campus Reform. “Being an immigrant myself, having spent 13 years to acquire citizenship in the country, [and] it’s incredibly demeaning for Rutgers to privilege these students over those who have obeyed the law their entire lives.”

Campus Reform reached out to Garcia Tellez for more information on the DREAM Zone program, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

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