The City University of New York has expanded its supportive offerings for immigrant students, including undocumented students, unifying resources that are available to these students across the University’s 25 colleges under a newly centralized office with a dedicated leader. Nearly 200 students, CUNY program organizers and immigration leaders and advocates attended an immigrant student success celebration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan on Saturday, in partnership with the immigrant student success centers at John Jay and Brooklyn College and with the support ofTheDream. US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for Dreamers.
Commissioner Manuel Castro of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) and CUNY Citizenship Now! Deputy Director Monique Francis attended Saturday’s event alongside Don Grahama co-founder of TheDream.US, and the program’s president Candy Marshall.
“CUNY is proudly expanding efforts to ensure that all immigrant students are getting the resources they need to overcome the barriers they face when pursuing a college education,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “We have been consistently inspired by the determination and drive of these students, and they are more than deserving of celebration. As I have said, CUNY has a simple message for immigrant New Yorkers: We know and treasure your incredible talent and persistence. We have your back.”
More than a third of CUNY undergraduates were born outside the US mainland, hailing from a diversity of countries including the Dominican Republic, China, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Guyana, Ecuador, Haiti and Mexico, and an estimated 5,000 CUNY students are undocumented. These students can face severe obstacles in accessing basic resources such as financial aid, in-state tuition, scholarships, governmental resources and other forms of public assistance.
A Dedicated Director
The Chancellor recently named Dr. Cynthia Carvajal to serve as interim director of immigrant student success, a newly created position dedicated to bringing uniformity to resources provided across the CUNY system.
The immigrant student success centers at John Jay College and Brooklyn College, CUNY’s first and second, respectively, opened in the fall of 2019. They organize workshops, support groups and other programming and resources to alleviate obstacles faced by students who are immigrants, including those who are undocumented. The centers also provide training to faculty and staff, to build their knowledge of challenges and enable them to better support students who are immigrants.
These centers create an opportunity for students to receive important academic and legal information, develop a sense of belonging and connect with other immigrant students across and within their diaspora.
Part of Dr. Carvajal’s role will be to oversee the expansion of the centers to other CUNY campuses. She brings to this work her experiences both as the first manager of John Jay’s center and as a formerly undocumented immigrant herself.
Chancellor Matos Rodríguez previously directed college presidents to each identify two immigrant liaisons who would be dedicated to supporting these students in each CUNY campus. The individuals have since been selected and were recognized at Saturday’s event; they are currently receiving monthly professional development training.
Last fall, CUNY also launched the College Immigrant Ambassador Program, in partnership with the city Department of Education (DOE), to match CUNY students who are immigrants and who graduated from DOE schools with current high school students to provide academic advising, college planning and career coaching Participation in the “near-peer” program has been shown to be beneficial to both the college students and their high school mentees.
The first cohort of participating CUNY students received $8,000 stipends and worked directly with 22 DOE schools, serving as mentors, coaches, academic role models and friends to the high school students for the duration of the 2021-22 school year. Some student ambassadors have provided virtual workshops for educators, parents and students across the DOE system, covering topics specific to immigrant students involving financial aid, navigating college and post-secondary careers. The 39 students of the inaugural cohort come from across the CUNY system and speak 12 languages and dialects including Spanish, Haitian Creole, Wolof and Urdu.
These services are valuable to students enrolled at the University with a wide range of immigration statuses including legal permanent residents, refugees, asylees, parolees, undocumented, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protective Status (TPS), T and U visa recipients, persons designated under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
CUNY has remained especially committed to uncoumented students over the past two years. When undocuumented college students were prohibited from receiving emergency federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the University leveraged the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund to prioritize financial support for these students. Through the Chancellor’s Emergency Fund, more than 3,400 undocumented students received grants to address their essential needs during the pandemic.
With the second round of federal stimulus grants offered via the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) initially having the same stipulations, CUNY colleges held 5 percent of funds for future discretionary awards until the restrictions were eventually lifted in May 2021.
Another program, CUNY Citizenship Now!, provides free, high-quality, confidential immigration law services to individuals and families, the largest university-based program of its kind in the nation. The program was founded at CUNY in 1997 and has since helped more than 210,000 immigrants with consultations and applications for immigration benefits such as citizenship, green cards, TPS, DACA and employment authorization.
CUNY Citizenship Now! marked its 25th anniversary by hosting the largest in-person citizenship application assistance event in the nation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. CUNY Citizenship Now! has assisted the highest number of completed naturalization applications of any provider in New York City in the last 25 years.