BY KELLY SWAN | January 26, 2024
[Catholic] is supposed to mean universal…[the Undocu Network] is proving that [support of undocumented students and their communities] is a universal thing…we are a very diverse, broad community. We’re supporting each other. We’re giving back to the communities that we’re going to school in and were raised in. . . This encapsulates Jesuit values and what the Catholic church has taught.
Nancy Suarez Jimenez | Marquette University ‘22
Nancy Suarez Jimenez is a member of the core committee of the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s (ISN) Undocu Network (UN). The UN is led by and serves students and young alumni of Jesuit and other Catholic universities who are undocumented, who hold temporary immigration statuses, or who are from mixed-status families.
From January 12-15, 2024, 32 members of the UN gathered in Morristown, NJ for the 3rd annual Undocu Network Summit. The summit was planned and facilitated by members of the core committee, including Suarez Jimenez, with support from ISN’s migration coordinator for youth engagement, Jorge Palacios Jr.
Participating students and alumni represented Boston College, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, Saint Peter’s University, the University of Detroit Mercy, the University of Notre Dame, and Xavier University.
The summit provided opportunities for mutual support, professional development, storytelling and community organizing workshops, and for planning collective action to build more welcoming campuses and communities toward those who are undocumented or marginally documented.
“The Undocu Network Summit is one of the few spaces where directly impacted young adults from across the country gather to bear witness to their own lived experiences,” shared Palacios. “It is designed by, with, and for the people it serves. Its purpose is community building and addressing the needs of this group of young people directly impacted by migration justice issues.”
Undocu Network Foundations
UN was formed in 2019 in response to the interest of undergraduate students from a number of ISN partner schools who gathered at ISN’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Throughout 2020 and 2021, UN grew through regular virtual meetings to discuss challenges faced on students’ campuses and communities, to learn from each other and invited guests, and to share expertise with the growing network. In 2022, ISN hosted the first Undocu Network Summit, with a second summit in 2023.
Palacios shared that, “with a group like this, the focus is both serving the needs of people in the room and training these young people to go back to their own communities—armed with newfound knowledge, resolve, and support—to be the advocates, organizers, and supporters that they feel called to be.”
Suarez Jimenez has been involved with IUN since 2022, when she was a student at Marquette University. She has seen the network grow from the first summit and has witnessed the impact that the in-person gatherings have for attendees. “You can tell people come in nervous,” she shared, “because we’re used to being in spaces where you’re the only undocumented kid…or kid from a mixed-status family.”
She went on to explain the power the gathering has to create a culture of support, putting the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis, or care for the whole person, into practice, both in supporting Undocu Network members as advocates and as students. “[IUN Summit attendees] have never felt more supported. . .They feel more equipped because a lot of us are first-generation students, undocumented, or documented from mixed-status families. We don’t have the resources or the prep that a lot of other students got who go to college and even grad school. It feels like we were able to finally catch up and have a normal experience as somebody who’s treated as abnormal,” she added.
Suarez Jimenez shared that, beyond this personal impact, she has seen campus-wide impact at her own alma mater and on other campuses. “Summit attendees feel ready to go back to campus. They know what they want to try [to take action to build more welcoming campus communities], even if it’s not giant scale.” At Marquette, student engagement in IUN has allowed MU Dreamers, a group for students who are undocumented or holding temporary statues, to see a revival through student leadership grown at the last three summits. This group participates in the school’s annual Dreamers Gala, which supports the Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. Dreamers Scholarship for students whose immigration statuses make them ineligible for federal and state student aid.
Maria Torres, an IUN core committee member and a student at Saint Peter’s University, a Jesuit school in Jersey City, NJ, agreed, sharing that “We’re all here because we all share this common factor that most of us are undocumented…we are coming together to heal, to learn from each other.”
Torres is working with a faculty member at Saint Peter’s to plan the campus’s first Undocu Week—a week of events designed to bring awareness to what it means to be undocumented in the United States and open up space for students and community members to speak, listen, share, learn, and challenge the narratives we so often hear about immigration.
“It’s important for us to come together [in person at the IUN Summit],” she shared. “We could always do this virtually, but there’s something about coming in person. You get a different perspective [from fellow attendees], and bring that back to campus to make change happen on campus that you didn’t think could happen before. You get to [connect with other] students and be able to learn from them.”
Giving Back to the Community
A common theme throughout the UN Summit was the deep desire from core committee members to give back to the communities that have supported them—both IUN and the programs and individuals on their campuses that have supported their educational opportunities.
Jonathan Mora, a student at Boston College and core committee member, shared that after attending the UN Summit in 2023, he thought he had simply attended once as a student from a mixed-status family—an experience in which he received support and encouragement but during which he did not give back.
Later in the year, he was approached by the core committee and asked to apply as a member. “As somebody who comes from a mixed-status background, I want to be able to contribute,” he explained. “I’m a citizen but I was able to learn about immigration issues through a secondhand experience…[In helping to plan this summit], I’ve been able to not only think more about my story, and navigate how to be an ally in the realm of immigration advocacy, especially because I’m not the one directly impacted…supporting undocumented students and students with vulnerable documentation statuses in college…finding my role, my lane.”
Suarez Jimenez agreed. “I would love to continue giving back to the Undocu Network, because not only did ISN provide this space and is supporting us so much as a network—it fulfills something that I’ve always believed—you give what you’ve been offered to others. That is something [ISN and other IUN members] have offered to me. They’re a part of the community I want to give back to.”
Kelly Swan has worked for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016, first as communications director, and now as director of advancement. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.