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SUIE fosters immigrant advocacy on campus

President Rosa Elias and Vice President Michelle Jamanca of UNC SUIE pose for a portrait at Wilson Library on Sept. 12, 2022. Heather Diehl

Two years ago, Students United for Immigrant Equality was a group centered around policy conversations alone. Now, it seeks directly to engage and empower the local immigrant community.  

SUIE was started in 2008 to raise campus awareness about different issues that prevent immigrants from enjoying basic human rights.                                                                    

“When I came into UNC, I saw a predominantly white community — I didn't see a lot of diversity,” Rosa Elias, the president of SUIE, said.       

Before joining SUIE, Elias felt she could not find an adequate space to amplify immigrant struggles on campus. 

“We didn't really have a platform to be able to express these issues, even issues that we have on campus because there are a lot of students who are undocumented or DACA students, and their problems are not being spoken about,” she said. 

When Elias first joined SUIE, the small group only spoke about immigrant affairs. But she wanted to expand the organization's scope and directly help the immigrant community.

SUIE  typically conducts fundraisers once a month for different immigrant communities across the U.S. and donates to different nonprofits that directly support these communities. Last year, the organization raised over $2,000 for various nonprofit organizations. 

At the Latinx Heritage Month Kickoff hosted by the Carolina Latinx Center on Thursday, the group will be fundraising for two local refugee communities.

Along with Elias, SUIE Vice President Michelle Jamanca has worked to rebuild and revive the organization after the pandemic caused them to go practically inactive. 

“The biggest thing that I've noticed since becoming a part of SUIE and having a part in reviving it would just be that we have a lot of support now from the Carolina Latinx Center, and with that, the Latinx community in UNC,”  she said.

Jamanca believes that the group is a pioneering voice in the campus community. 

“I know that an immigration issue isn't really the most predominant issue on a college students’ mind, so I think it's really important to just be able to spread awareness just around college campuses,” she said. 

The organization produces a monthly newsletter to spread awareness about pressing immigration issues and policy matters, which they plan to soon offer in Spanish. 

Jamanca and Elias are both the daughters of immigrants who have witnessed the struggles of being an immigrant firsthand. 

The two have been working to create support for students who are immigrants or of immigrant descent — such as Alessandra Caceres Torres, a junior whose parents are Peruvian immigrants. 

“Watching their struggles was one of the main reasons that I joined SUIE, because I also wanted to help other individuals whose parents were also going through the same situation or other students who are also struggling with their immigration status and are also finding it hard to locate resources for any sort of aid,” Caceres Torres said.

In the future, the leadership team hopes to welcome more members who are passionate about immigrant issues, to collaborate with different organizations on campus, and to expand its platform. 

“I feel like there aren't many organizations on campus who do cater to the immigrant community,” Caceres Torres said. “I think that it would be really good for SUIE to kind of maintain that role as a trailblazer.”

@keerthanagotur |

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