What appeared as any typical Wednesday noon at UCR’s Bell Tower quickly became a large occasion as an audience of Highlanders were attracted to the center of campus to support Coming Out of the Shadows, an event hosted by the Undocumented Student Programs. This program was able to unify a vast variety of UCR’s students who sought to gain awareness on immigration issues and become allies of the community.

“I’m coming out as undocumented, and unafraid,” second-year sociology major Ruby Olvera proudly shared alongside several other undocumented students. For many of these students, bringing forth their testimonies as allies and members of this community was a major step out of their comfort zones as most had never done anything similar to this. Still, they demonstrated how this event was an opportunity for them to publicly come out as undocumented in order to accomplish their goal of “putting a face to the issue of immigration.”

Fourth-year liberal studies major Mafalda Gueta explained how “right now is an important time in the elections for undocumented students as people discuss the construction of the wall and deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants.” The goal was thus to provide insight to the experiences of some of our very own Highlanders in order to gain more allies to support not only our own students and staff, but also all other undocumented immigrants.

Oftentimes, a number and a statistic is attached to immigration to be used as a tool, especially with presidential elections approaching. Olvera uses these statistics along with her own experiences to empower herself to demonstrate that undocumented immigrants are “not just a number and are not just here to cause trouble.” With this, she seeks to “fight for the people who are still left behind in the shadows, so they can be where (she is) today, because if it weren’t for them, if it weren’t for their battles, (she) wouldn’t be here.”

“I have a right to education and to healthcare, and I shouldn’t be denied this just because of my legal status,” exclaimed fourth-year sociology major Veronica Martinez. Like Olvera, Martinez regards herself as very privileged to be able to pursue a higher education in the U.S. and is thankful for the opportunity that has allowed her to travel abroad to meet her grandparents in Oaxaca, Mexico. After traveling back to Oaxaca though, Martinez has “realized that the land is for everyone, that there should be no borders.” Many students in the audience applauded and eagerly nodded their heads in agreement, displaying their support and understanding not only for Martinez, but for all of the undocumented students.

As an undocumented student ally, Nicole Perez, a fourth-year psychology and music double-major, also aims to combat the negative and stereotypical views undocumented students confront by sharing her experience about her parents. Since she was a child, Perez would question, “Why can’t we visit my grandma in El Salvador? Why is my mom always so nervous?” until she became informed about her parent’s legal status and realized she would have to learn to keep secrets as well. At this point, Perez feels “privileged to say that both (her) parents are now residents in this country and that (she) was born here, so (she feels) that (she) has the responsibility to speak for those who (can’t) times, like (her) parents.”

Undocumented Student Programs provides this platform for students like Perez to speak up for others and place a face on the immigration issue. Gueta informed the crowd that the program works to “outreach the community through high school students and community college students, getting the word out there that every undocumented student can achieve higher education and has the tools and resources to pursue higher goals.” The crowd was thus prompted of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” encouraging students to become an ally of the Undocumented Student Programs as the injustice of racial profiling and separation of families is committed on a regular basis.

“No one should ever have to feel apologetic for this. I realized that I’m not sorry, and no one else should be,” Perez stated passionately. Coming Out of the Shadows united UCR’s students and inspired them to support the Undocumented Student Programs’ cause.