Students launch refugee aid group

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 07, 2019

HANOVER — A group of Dartmouth College students has started a new fund to help immigrants and refugees in the Upper Valley.

The student group, the Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality at Dartmouth, started the Immigration Community Support Fund in early January. CoFIRED started in 2014 to advance the rights of undocumented students on campus and raise awareness about the immigrant and undocumented experiences.

The fund will be used to address various needs for both immigrant or undocumented students on campus and for the broader Upper Valley immigrant community.

“We really want this to be a holistic thing,” said Luis Flores, a sophomore from Los Angeles who co-directs the student group. So whether that’s getting a suit and transportation to an interview or helping with rent, groceries or legal bills, that’ll be covered.

“Those are issues one doesn’t think about in big-picture immigration issues, but they do affect the community,” Flores said.

After two fundraising events earlier this year and intermittent donations, the group has raised about $2,000.

“Hopefully, this can be a symbol of support for immigrants and refugees here,” said Kristen Perez, a senior from Celina, Texas, who also co-directs the student group.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 4 percent of the Upper Valley’s population is foreign-born, and as of 2017, about 500 people in New Hampshire had applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

That program protects people who came to the United States as children from deportation and provides a work permit.

The idea for a fund started during the 2016 presidential election when “there was a threat of DACA being rescinded,” said Jesus Franco, a junior at Dartmouth from southeast Los Angeles.

CoFIRED put out a list of demands to the college in 2016 and on Sept. 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump ordered an end to DACA.

That list of demands included providing legal support for any undocumented students.

But that, and other demands were never met.

“I know so many students at Dartmouth whose family members are going through deportation proceedings, and there’s no institutional support for that,” Flores said.

And while students will be a central focus for the fund, Flores says he hopes the fund can provide even more than just financial resources.

“My dream in the future is to create community spaces outside of Dartmouth anyone can go to,” Flores said.

The Immigrant Community Support Fund will be the first fund for immigrants in the Upper Valley that’s led by immigrants.

For Asma Elhuni, the lead organizer at the Meriden-based United Valley Interfaith Project, that’s critical.

“There are immigrant sensibilities others won’t understand,” she said, “something as simple as not making eye contact for cultural reasons or different cultural practice other people may not be sensitive to.”

Elhuni and the Upper Valley Refugee Working Group are collaborating with the students on the fund.

The students have set up a bank account and PO Box to receive applications requesting funds, which can be sent to P.O. Box 5154, Hanover NH, 03755.

Each week, the students will go over those applications and decide how much to provide. From there, the refugee working group, which is volunteer based and meets at the Howe Library in Hanover, will write out and mail the checks.

The application is currently available in English, and will soon be available in Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic.

Daniela Vidal Allee can be reached at dallee@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.