Wisconsin Idea Grant helps create Center for DREAMers at UW

MADISON, Wis. — Amazing ideas come out of the University of Wisconsin – Madison every year. And the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment helps bring a select few to life.

One of this year’s larger grants is helping create the Center for DREAMers at UW. The hub will serve the thousands of undocumented Wisconsin students with DACA.

Set to open in October, the Center for DREAMers will provide legal services, mental health services and career and educational counseling to students with DACA who are currently or have dreams of pursuing higher education.

“It’s very difficult for the people who have DACA because information and the policies change all of the time. And having a trusted resource, at least from my perspective, will help ease the burden that so many of these young people have to carry,” said Erin Barbato.

Barbato leads the Immigrant Justice Clinic on campus, where law students help immigrants in Dane County. But with the $110,000 grant, they’ll be able to triple the amount of people they can help, and reach all the corners of the state.

“It will be a full on clinical law experience where they really get to dive in and learn how to be an immigration attorney,” said Barbato.

She said there are about 7,000 students with DACA in Wisconsin, but about 11,000 people are newly eligible. So this center is going to be needed even more.

Students in UW’s School of Social Work will also work in the center, helping connect students with DACA to scholarships, job opportunities, and other employment resources.

“A lot of students don’t necessarily know their next step after graduation, and applying for a job and the barriers that come with that,” said Cristhabel Martinez, who hopes to work in the center as she pursues her masters in social work.

“This already exists in other places, and we don’t have anything here in Wisconsin,” said Erika Rosales, who will be the director of the Center for DREAMers. “It’s exhausting to be living the experience and then also to have to do that work of the research to have the right information.”

Rosales knows how difficult it is for students with DACA to find answers, because she hit many barriers as a student with DACA.

She wants the Center for DREAMers to be more than just a resource center.

“(I want it to be) mainly a place for students that have DACA to be able to be seen and heard and feel like they belong somewhere, because we don’t really have a place where we feel like we belong or we can go to,” said Rosales.