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Dreamers of UW-Madison to expand statewide

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Dreamers of UW-Madison will expand their efforts to help undocumented students across Wisconsin. 

“Originally, it started in Madison but we’re shifting our focus from UW-Madison to statewide so we’re changing our name from Dreamers of UW-Madison to Dreamers of Wisconsin,” UW-Madison senior and Dreamers of Wisconsin President Cristhabel Martinez said.

The registered student organization began advocating for undocumented students, including “Dreamers” — recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program —  pursuing higher education in April 2016. Since then, the focus of the organization has grown. Dreamers of UW-Madison provides resources and serves as a support group to undocumented students in high school, undergraduate, and graduate school. 

“Advocating doesn’t just mean using your words, it means doing whatever it takes,” Junior and Vice President Diana Peña-Moreno said.

Their work includes reaching out to legislators to address the needs of undocumented students through policy. While the organization exists to serve the needs of undocumented students, the members also have spent their time educating students, faculty, staff, and communities about the struggles and the needs of undocumented students.

“(Undocumented students) basically just don’t exist and if you do exist, you’re put in danger,” Martinez said.

UW senior and Dreamers of Wisconsin president Cristhabel Martinez and UW Junior and vice president Diana Peña-Moreno. Photo supplied.

Martinez said a lot of students and families feel like they are living in the shadows. Peña-Moreno explained a lot of people who are undocumented or have undocumented family members constantly worry about what could happen. 

“Last semester, we held a mental health workshop specifically talking about mental health in immigrant communities,” Peña-Moreno said.

Many people come for opportunities and for safety, however, access to resources is often limited for undocumented youth and families. Martinez said some high school students shutdown and choose not to apply for college. 

“If you say you’re inclusive to all students, you have to update your websites and admissions policy,” she said.

At UW-Madison, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition, even if they were raised in Wisconsin. Also, undocumented students do not have access to state and federal financial aid programs. Many private scholarships are also only available to citizens and documented immigrants.

In 2018, the organization launched a new scholarship for undocumented students at the UW-Madison, Edgewood College, and Madison College. The group plans to begin accepting applications around May.

“The first year we awarded two $1,000 scholarships, the second year we awarded $2,500, and now this year we’re going to be awarding $5,000 for a scholarship,” Martinez said.

Unfortunately, students will not return to campus for the rest of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Martinez said Dreamers still hopes to raise the remaining funds to award their annual scholarship. 

“Normally, we do our fundraising during the school year when we sell our shirts and do a food fundraiser once a month in the community. Unfortunately with COVID-19, our fundraising initiatives have been put on hold as well as other in-person activities and programming,” Martinez said.

She also said the group is being mindful of everyone in their community, placing health and safety as their top priority. 

“We will be coming out with more details on our fundraising initiatives and website that will be released within the next couple of weeks,” Martinez said.

In the meantime, if people still want to donate they may do so or contact Martinez via email at dreamersofuwmadison@gmail.com or phone 608-577-4930.