Elgin High graduate advocating for Dreamers, immigrant students at NIU
For many young undocumented immigrants, months of uncertainty seem at an end with this week's order by a federal judge to open applications for the program protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work.
Known as Dreamers, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA students, have been on edge since the 2016 presidential campaign and President Donald Trump's repeated proclamations to kill the Obama-era program.
"I believe that as undocumented students we have to make our issues visible by sharing our stories and, like the many other students, I feel very vulnerable," said Laura Vivaldo Cholula, formerly of Elgin, a senior at Northern Illinois University. "I am scared and anxious for the future."
Cholula, 26, a Dreamer and a 2009 graduate of Elgin High School, recently received the 2018 Emerging Leader Award from the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education for her advocacy efforts helping undocumented and Latino students.
The award recognizes a student in Illinois who has made significant contributions to the Latinx higher education community through service and leadership. It was presented at the council's Professional and Student Development Conference April 20 at Illinois State University.
"Without a doubt, Laura Cholula Vivaldo is a change agent," said Susana Das Neves, ILACHE conference chair, vice president of academic and professional development and a doctoral student at NIU. "She has paved the way for future NIU students to continue her quest for social justice and equality for all students."
Cholula is co-president of DREAM Action NIU, a student-run organization advocating for undocumented students and also serves on the NIU Center for Latino and Latin American Studies' Student Advisory Council. She has been a peer mentor for middle school and college students. She also conducted research for the NIU Latino Oral History Project helping document experiences of Chicago-area immigrants.
She won the NIU Deacon Davis Diversity Award in 2017.
A political science major minoring in Latin American studies, Cholula has been lobbying legislators in Springfield for funding of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and immigrant-friendly legislation. Among her goals is making NIU "more friendly for undocumented students," she said.
"At NIU, we have over 200 undocumented students," said Cholula adding, there are thousands more statewide.
Cholula now is applying to law schools so she is able advocate more efficiently for them after graduating from NIU next month.
"I'm very happy to be recognized and for the work that I have done in the community being appreciated," she said. "This award reaffirms that women of color are not just participating in student organizations but are the leaders. My leadership model aims to uplift students, so they can find within themselves the skills they need to be the next leaders on our campus and in the community."