MSW Student Advocates for More Support for Undocumented Immigrants in Higher Education and Healthcare - University of Houston
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MSW Student Advocates for More Support for Undocumented Immigrants in Higher Education and Healthcare


May 21, 2021

(HOUSTON, TX) - The GCSW Student Association awarded recent MSW graduate Areli Tamayo the Dolores Huerta Service Award for her public advocacy for Latinos and undocumented immigrants.

The Dolores Huerta Service Award recipient must be "a student that has performed exceptional community service beyond employment or field practicum and represents the epitome of social work values and ethics and supports a traditional casework philosophy."

We asked Areli about how her personal experience navigating higher education while undocumented has shaped her view on advocacy and how being named a GCSW scholarship recipient shaped her education and future in social work.


Name: Areli Tamayo
Graduation from the GCSW: 
May 2021

You have been doing excellent advocacy work for those in the undocumented immigrant community for many years. What inspires you to continue your career in this area?

My interest and inspiration for working to advocate for undocumented immigrants are due to my parents and myself. We have been living undocumented for almost 26 years, and we have suffered through the tragedy of family separation. These experiences have led me to advocate for immigrant rights.

What has been a highlight of your advocacy work thus far, and why?

Most of my advocacy has centered around education equity for undocumented students. As someone who has been navigating the higher education system, I decided to put together a toolkit for undocumented students interested in attending a graduate school in Texas with information. The toolkit informs students at all higher education levels and includes materials for educators who want to support undocumented students.

Who has inspired you to continue your education in social work?

My parents are the two people that inspire me to continue my education in social work. My goal is to help them continue to prosper and find ways to help others in situations similar to ours.

Congratulations on being named to the Humana Houston Bold Goal Team as an intern last August. What are some of the challenges you see when addressing social barriers to health within undocumented communities, and how can we better include these communities into our health care system?

Interning with the Humana Houston Bold Goal Team has been a great experience, especially considering being suddenly exposed to unfamiliar health barriers. Part of the challenge is that there are not specific conversations happening around undocumented communities. Networks and coalitions are trying to serve and address social barriers for underserved communities in Houston without discussing immigration status. One way to become inclusive of undocumented communities in the health care system is to have more financial assistance that does not require a social security number or status, like the Texas Gold Card. Having affordable and accessible community clinics has been helpful for people like my parents. People within immigrant communities need providers that speak their native language to understand Latinx communities.

How has being named a recipient of a GCSW scholarship impacted your ability to continue your education in our MSW program?

Being a recipient of a GCSW scholarship allowed me peace of mind. I have had to take out personal loans to complete my MSW because I do not qualify for student loans due to my immigration status. Without the scholarship, I would have resorted to taking out my third loan during my two years at the GCSW. 

Why is it essential for a social work college like ours to provide scholarship opportunities to students who will eventually become the next generation of social workers?

Social work colleges must provide scholarship opportunities to their students. Scholarships are beneficial and encouraging for those who do not have the economic privilege to quit their jobs or cannot work during their graduate programs.

Anything else you would like to share?

I cannot express how grateful I am to the GCSW faculty and alumni that have demonstrated their support for undocumented students. Without the support and understanding, I would not have made it this far within this program. All higher education programs need faculty to be fearless advocates for their undocumented students.