City Colleges add liaisons to help undocumented students navigate college

“Today is a proud day,” Daniel Lopez, president of Harold Washington College, said Friday. Lopez attended the school he now heads up as an undocumented student.

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Luvia Moreno (from left), Florencia Laino and Daniel Lopez. Moreno serves as head coordinator of seven new liaisons who will help undocumented students navigate City Colleges of Chicago. Laino is an undocumented student who just graduated from Wilbur Wright College. And Lopez is President of Harold Washington College. But he, too, was once an undocumented student.

Liaison coordinator Luvia Moreno (from left), recent Wilber Wright College graduate Florencia Laino and Daniel Lopez, president of Harold Washington College

Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Undocumented students in Chicago are getting a big boost when it comes to navigating college.

City Colleges of Chicago on Friday announced it has hired seven liaisons — one for each of its schools — to help connect undocumented students with resources, such as financial aid and academic support.

The liaisons are required at every community college under an Illinois law passed last spring.

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“Education, I firmly believe, is a right for all people,” state Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia, a key supporter of the legislation, said at a news conference at Harold Washington College in the Loop. “It’s a human right, regardless of your status.”

State Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, a former school social worker, said she becomes emotional when remembering when the middle school students she worked realized they were undocumented. “All of their dreams, all of their hopes, were washed away. ‘What are we going to do? What is next, Miss Villa?’ they would say to me.”

She said it deeply troubled her not being able to provide answers, but it now gives her hope that undocumented college students will be able to know “you don’t have to be afraid anymore; now you have a liaison that you’re going to be able to go to to ask all of the questions, get all of the support.”

For information on services available to undocumented students at city colleges, visit

Amelia Pallares, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and engagement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the university, a partner in the undocumented liaison program, was excited to train liaisons who will spread across the state and hopefully create a national model.

“These (college) systems were not made for undocumented students. And a lot of it wasn’t done intentionally; it’s just that they don’t think of what it means for undocumented students to go through certain things and what risks they have to face and what things they opt out of because the systems aren’t made for them,” Pallares said.

Florencia Laino, a graduate of Wilbur Wright College headed to Dominican University on a full scholarship, spoke about her journey as a student with undocumented status.

“I was raised to not talk about it,” she said, noting how far she’d come, with the help of many others, to overcome that mindset.

“Don’t be afraid to view your undocumented status as a positive. Colleges can be incredibly welcoming of undocumented students. With the right support, it is possible to work hard and create your own success story,” she said.

Years ago, Daniel Lopez, president of Harold Washington College, graduated from the school he now heads as an undocumented student.

On Friday, he beamed with the news of additional resources for undocumented students.

“Today is a proud day,” Lopez said.

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