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New student group introduces Undocumented Awareness Week to Duke

A new student group called Duke Define American is working to inform the Duke community about the conditions that undocumented immigrants face through an Undocumented Awareness Week. 

Occurring this week, the events will include tabling, activities and forums designed to generate conversation about the experience of being undocumented on Duke’s campus. Other events will explore policies around immigration that are currently playing out on the national stage. 

Sophomores Axel Herrera Ramos and Ana Ramirez, co-presidents of Define American, explained that their organization hopes to gain traction and get its name out throughout the week. 

“[The goal is] letting the Duke student population know that it’s not just an issue being talked about in national news, it’s something that affects students here and families here in Durham,” Ramos said. 

The week kicked off Monday with tabling on the Bryan Center Plaza to inform students about the festivities and the organization’s goals. Define American is a national organization with chapters that students charter on their campuses. 

Duke is also a finalist for Define American’s national summit, so Ramos and Ramirez are asking students to go online and vote to have the summit on campus. 

On Tuesday, the group plans to host an activity on the Bryan Center Plaza in which students give up their Duke ID for three hours to experience some of the challenges that result from being undocumented. They will seal students’ Duke IDs in an envelope and then provide a reward for those people who show that they didn’t use the Duke cards before the three hours passed. 

“We’re building awareness that there’s lots of barriers and restrictions to not having documentation, and it’s a fun way to do it,” Ramos said. 

Ramirez noted that on Wednesday, they plan to share personal stories about being undocumented at the West Campus bus stop from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The focus will be about how status defines human life. 

Thursday’s main event is a youth forum featuring undocumented Duke students, Durham community organizers and allies of undocumented people. It will take place in White Lecture Hall on East Campus at 6 p.m.

Ramos said that the individuals speaking at this event were deported in the past. They will talk about what life is like post-deportation and what this means for undocumented students.

Another theme will be what life is like for students in colleges and the workforce who live in a state of limbo—not knowing what will happen with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Trump administration has threatened to shut down. 

Ramirez explained that the panel will be student-led and panelists will be split into two groups based on the conversations they are having. The organizers hope to make the event interactive as well. 

“Two of the Define American members are both in [documentary] studies, and they interviewed a lot of us on campus and are making a video we can show and circulate,” she said.  

The week will culminate with a forum on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in White Lecture Hall called, “After DACA: Perspective from the U.S. Border.” The event will feature speakers like Jill Anderson, Mellon visiting professor in the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, who has worked in Mexico with individuals who have been deported, and is led by the CLACS.

The idea for Undocumented Awareness Week came about when the CLACS approached Define American to do a youth forum in conjunction with their Friday forum, Ramirez explained. She and Ramos decided it would be the perfect way to create an entire week dedicated to undocumented students. 

She noted that as a DACA recipient, this conversation affects her very personally. 

“In creating this organization, it provides a platform for students to tell their narratives and tell their stories,” she said. “A lot more students are coming on campus who are affected by these issues. Joining allows them to feel like they are taking action.”

Ramos explained that he’s been involved in advocacy work since high school, when he worked with students in Durham who were being deported. He noted that on campus, there are groups like Mi Gente that do advocacy but none that focus specifically on immigration. 

“I find that it’s hard for a group like Mi Gente to tackle an issue that’s across cultures,” he said. 

Ramos hopes to inform the Duke student population that this issue hits close to home for many people, affecting students and families in Durham as well as those they care about. 

This is especially important since March 5—the deadline that President Donald Trump gave for Congress to address DACA—is quickly approaching.

Late last year, members of Define American traveled to Washington to meet with members of Congress. Some individuals they spoke with included Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).

“It’s very stressful, but I think it will help out by having a big presence on campus and challenging some of these notions about immigration that are very inaccurate,” Ramos said.