Visit Allowed Students and Alumni to Travel Outside of U.S. for the First Time and Without Losing DACA Status 

Many Embraced Relatives They Have Not Seen in Decades   

Thirty Dreamers, including 25 students and alumni from six CUNY colleges, traveled to Mexico in April for an all-expenses-paid study abroad program that was facilitated by CUNY Citizenship Now! and that also has the potential to help with their application for legal residency. Nearly all of the participants were born in Mexico and many had emotional visits with family members they had not seen since leaving the country as young children. 

“We were proud to offer this rare opportunity to our CUNY Dreamers, who strengthen our University community through their courage, perseverance and commitment to pursue a college education,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “This transformative study abroad trip not only offered educational, cultural enrichment and community service opportunities, but also the chance to reconnect and make memories with relatives they hadn’t been able to see and hug since they left Mexico very young.”

Student Wendy Tellez, who has an associate degree in nursing from City Tech, enjoyed the warm embrace of her maternal aunt who she left as a 2-year-old. “We stayed in touch using FaceTime, and when I was about to walk through the airport doors I thought to myself, this is something that I have been dreaming and thinking of for so long, and it’s crazy that I am going to be actually hugging somebody and not hugging a screen,” she said. “When I finally saw her I just started to cry. I told her, ‘I’m sorry my mom isn’t with me, but I am going to bring her back one day.’” 

Attorneys with CUNY Citizenship Now! helped students apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to travel outside the United States and re-enter legally, allowing them to undergo an official interview, or inspection, which is one of the requirements for those seeking a green card. 

The required travel document for non-citizens, known as advance parole, does not guarantee re-entry to the United States, but a Citizenship Now! Lawyer traveled with the students and prepared them for interviews by customs and border protection at JFK airport so that all of them were readmitted successfully. Funding was provided by Mixteca (through CFE International) and the Hispanic Federation

“CUNY Citizenship Now! was excited to be involved in this life-changing experience for CUNY Dreamers. Our attorneys provided a detailed analysis of their immigration background, completed their advance parole application and addressed their concerns about the risks of traveling abroad,” said CUNY Citizenship Now! Interim Executive Director Monique Francis. “We extend a special thank you to our partners at the Hispanic Federation and the USCIS New York City District Office for supporting the application process.”

“The study abroad trip in Mexico with 30 resilient DACAmented community members was truly transformative for both our students and organizers,” said Brooklyn College Immigrant Student Success Office Director Jesus Perez. “At the Brooklyn College Immigrant Student Success Office, fostering a strong, supportive community is in our DNA. This trip reinforces our dedication to helping our DACAmented students and alumni pursue their dreams of a dignified and successful life.”

“Mixteca is thrilled to have been part of this life-changing opportunity for 30 CUNY Dreamers,” said Mixteca Executive Director Lorena Kourousias. “This journey not only allowed these young Dreamers to reconnect with their roots but also highlighted the importance of educational and cultural exchange, enabling them to create lifelong memories.” 

“Hispanic Federation is committed to providing individuals with opportunities for cultural enrichment and capacity building. Our partnership with CUNY Citizenship Now!, in support of the immigrant community, demonstrates our dedication and efforts to create more legal pathways for DACA recipients. Funding the trip ‘Building Stronger Communities Across Borders through Community Service and Leadership’ not only allows the students to immerse themselves and connect with their heritage but also generates a channel where they can adjust their immigration status at a later time,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO of Hispanic Federation. “We’d like to thank CUNY Citizenship Now! and its partners for allowing us to support migrants and students on their educational and immigration journeys. We hope to continue collaborating to foster these valuable experiences.” 

The 10-day visit from April 18-29 included a stop at the National Museum for Anthropology and History, which houses the largest collection of artifacts from the pre-Columbian era, as well as opportunities to volunteer at a migrant shelter and share their knowledge and experience as DACA recipients with Mexican students at the Ibero-American University in Puebla. 

In addition to CUNY Citizenship Now!, the trip was coordinated by Brooklyn College Immigrant Student Success Office, Mixteca, La Colmena, and New Immigrant Community Empowerment

Connecting to the Past, Looking to the Future

Another student on the trip was Adela Zamora, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Queens College. She came to the United States as an 8-year-old 30 years ago. During the study-abroad trip, she visited relatives, including her paternal aunt, who she lived with before joining her parents in the United States. (Watch a video of their reunion at the Ibero-American University.) She also went with her grandfather to see her grandmother’s gravesite. “I took flowers, I took candles, and I cleaned her place. It felt good to be of service to him, to be able to finally let him know that I’m here,” she said. 

Now that she has legally returned to the United States with advance parole, Zamora is excited to take the next steps in the green card application process. “[Not having the legal entry on my passport] was kind of stopping me from reaching further dreams or even doing things outside my comfort zone,” she said.

Embracing Identity

Angel Delgado, who volunteers with CUNY Citizenship Now!, first learned about the organization while working for the Mexican consulate. “We would refer parents to the CUNY Citizenship Now! lawyer who worked at the consulate to see if they could help their children get DACA status,” said Delgado. He moved to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico at age two. “As someone born in Mexico, but living outside of Mexico, you never really do feel fully Mexican, but at the same time, you don’t feel fully American. So for me the trip was about bridging that gap and understanding my identity as a Mexican,” he said.