Alina Camacho-Gingerich, Ph.D.

A grant for over $122,000 was recently awarded to St. John’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) through the Department of Homeland Security's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a temporary reprieve to young people who are living under the threat of deportation.

For nearly 20 years, CLACS has shed a spotlight on critical issues facing the nation’s immigrant population and has created a number of successful programs to address them. CLACS plans to use the funds to create programming for students who immigrated to the United States with their undocumented parents and who hope to attend college here.

Alina Camacho-Gingerich, Ph.D., chair of CLACS and professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures, authored the successful grant proposal. "This grant addresses a very serious situation," she stressed. "Since these children were not born in this country, many doors are closed to them. We have a pool of talented potential future citizens who are not entitled to higher education. If they drop out, we lose as a society."

The DACA program is open to young people ages 16–31, who—if they fit certain criteria—are allowed to legally stay in the United States for two years while they pursue the path to higher education. Through the grant, CLACS plans to offer eligible students free adult literacy classes designed to help them qualify for the program.

Grant monies have also been allocated for the purchase of tablet computers for classroom use. The center is partnering with outreach organizations like Catholic Charities to identify eligible applicants and connect them with attorneys who provide pro bono legal services.

"We’re addressing two sets of students," Camacho-Gingerich said. "For those students who did not finish high school, we offer GED classes. For those who did, we offer advanced adult education classes, which are excellent preparation for college."

Funding was distributed by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), which has awarded several grants in adult literacy to CLACS over the years, including a grant of almost $80,000 awarded earlier this year.

Created in 1994, CLACS is a multi-disciplinary academic center with over twenty affiliated scholars from throughout the University. The Center offers a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean studies and organizes conferences and workshops designed to enhance the understanding of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino cultures.

"The primary tool we offer is education," Camacho-Gingerich stressed. "We provide students with an incredible academic experience. In addition to our regular classes, St. John’s own scholars and professors conduct workshops on a variety of social issues."

CLACS has always been about helping people help themselves, she observed. "It's very broad and Vincentian in nature. That's been part of our mission since the beginning."