By Larry Greene
For Carolina and Camila Bortolleto, spending countless hours to help undocumented students reach their dreams is not hard work. They know first hand the struggles of immigrants who are not citizens in getting a college education or even a driver’s license.
That’s why in 2010, the twin sisters co-founded CT Students for a DREAM, which is dedicated to dealing with the obstacles they faced as undocumented students and through which they and other undocumented students can speak out for meaningful immigration reform.
“There’s a lot misinformation about undocumented students getting into college,” said Carolina, “We empower students to do this for themselves.” The organization gives workshops and presentations to high school groups around the state and offers one-on-one mentoring. “We talk about how to finance education; we talk about legislation,” said Carolina.
They say too many immigrants find themselves struggling to go to school or to find work after their visas have expired. One goal of CT Students for a DREAM is to give encouragement to them. The two sisters are eager to give that encouragement. Born in Brazil, they immigrated here about 15 years ago when they were still children. “We came here when we were 9 years old,” said Camila. “Going through the high school and college, we felt very isolated.”
Both however managed to graduate from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Camila minored in international studies and received a BA in biology. She is now the policy coordinator for CT Students for a DREAM. Carolina has identical college credentials with the addition of a minor in anthropology; she acts as the group’s college access program coordinator. The sisters are part of a core group of seven leaders in the organization. Both successfully met the challenges of being undocumented students reaching their dream
Last year, CT Students for a DREAM held 25 workshops across the state. On April 6, a Boot Camp will be held in the Bridgeport City Hall Annex. Attendees will learn the basics of community organizing, storytelling, team building and engagement. Starting with registration at 8 a.m. and lasting until 10 p.m., the event will cost $20 a person, which will cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, materials, and a door prize. Present CT Students for a DREAM members will be attending and the event is open to anyone. People who wish to attend must register on the organization’s website at www.ct4adream.org.
“The biggest thing that we do is what we call action teams, groups of students that meet and plan activities in the community,” said Camila. The organization has regional teams of 10 to 15 members in Stanford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Danbury who are active in the community. Right now, the teams are focusing on national immigration reform. They do presentations about attending college and have fund-raising activities, among other things.
CT Students for a DREAM relies entirely on donations and every one in the organization is a volunteer.
“The biggest thing is to help students and families who are scared, to have them take ownership,” said Camila. “Our biggest goal is to make people more confident, empower them to make a change.”
“Some have been here for 15 years, but don’t realize they have a voice,” said Carolina. “We reach out to students and families and let them recognize that they do have a voice.”
On April 9 and 10, CT Students for a DREAM members will be participating in marches around the state to support immigration reform on the national level.
“We’re helping with the driver’s license bill for undocumented people,” said Camila. State Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) is the sponsor of that bill. “I think it’s going well. People are very excited, but we still need more people to be active.”
“In 2011, this organization was part of a larger coalition to get this passed,” said Carolina about the state law that allows undocumented Connecticut residents to pay in-state tuition rates to attend school. Although the Bortolletos were disappointed that Senate Bill 475, legislation that would allow undocumented Connecticut students to receive institutional and state financial aid, recently died in committee, they are pushing to accomplish the same thing on an administrative level.
“My goal is to have a sustainable organization,” said Camila about the future of CT Students for a DREAM, “something that will last even after I’m not involved.”