YOUTH MAKING A DIFFERENCE AT THE UNITED NATIONS
Youth imbued with the Vincentian spirit have little time for empty rhetoric. Human need calls them to propel values into vibrant action. The Daughters of Charity at the UN find that admirable quality in intern Joanna Mendez, a final year student at St. John’s University. In this week’s article, Joanna conveys how she converted the invitation to “welcome the stranger,” into a practical response. — Catherine Prendergast, DC
TRULY WELCOMING THE STRANGER
By Joanna Mendez, Youth Representative of the Vincentian Family at the United Nations
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is an international document that states basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. It declares that human rights are universal – to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live. It includes civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech, social security, health, and education. Although it is not binding, it has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law. To further this, in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the turn of 2015, the United Nations has established the rhetoric of “Leaving No One Behind.” We have begun to focus on root causes of poverty and analyze systematic approaches to eliminating poverty and injustices around the world.
However, one of the biggest critiques of this movement is the lack of participation from industrialized nations in implementing policies that follow this rhetoric within their own borders. In the United States of America, for example, we are facing a shift in administration that is putting to question fundamental rights of certain groups of people. The conversation on what will happen with undocumented people in America is one that has provided controversial debates across the nation.
Impacted by the influx of young undocumented children entering the US in 2014, I decided to tailor my undergraduate research on the ability or inability of undocumented students to attain higher education opportunities in New York State as a means to improve their chances of legalization. I found that 65,000 undocumented students are currently present in our public high school system throughout the States; however, only 6,500 of these students go on to achieve higher education. It is through this inability to further secure development opportunities that this population becomes more vulnerable and can then perpetuate a cycle of poverty. My findings echoed this in that I was able to identify not attainability as the core issue of achieving higher education but rather affordability as the main obstacle in achieving this feat.
A part of our Christian beliefs tells us that there is more that we can each do to alleviate the conditions in which vulnerable people live in. Because of this, I proposed to create a website where I would list all the opportunities available for undocumented students in New York State, including scholarships per university. A crucial part in creating the website was to protect the identity of the user in a manner that was confidential for each student. It is currently active and can be accessed at: http://joannamendez95.wixsite.com/higheredforall
However, with the current situation of undocumented people in America, there is a strong need for each of us to decide what we will do in response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric we are experiencing. Each of us has a responsibility to not only protect vulnerable people but to also fight for a future that is systematically just for all. I am hopeful that our times have pushed us to collaborate more and to pursue a future that is representative of all Americans.