Overcoming Borders: The mission and achievements of the Lane Tech DREAMers Club


Members of the DREAMers club.

By Yaniya Gilford, Managing Editor

Throughout last year, Isabela Avila Rios (now a freshman at the University of Chicago), walked into many classrooms around Lane and presented on the DREAMers club. The DREAMers Club according to their Instagram bio, @lane.dreamers, is “A group of young leaders dedicated to providing a safe and resourceful environment for the undocumented student body of Lane Tech.” Isabela was the then president for Lane’s DREAMers club.

   Isabela inspired many through her presentations and presence in the club. One of those students whom she inspired is the current DREAMers club president, Elena Hernandez Cornelio, a senior, who this year took the reins and now leads the club.

What inspired me to join was President Avila Rios, she graduated last year, and she really encouraged me to, you know, keep being active in the club. She advocated for everybody, and no matter their status, so that just really inspired me to keep on working, especially with the club,” said Hernandez-Cornelio.

The acronym/term DREAMers was derived from the DREAM Act. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was first introduced to the Senate in 2001 by senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). If the act were to be passed it would protect immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids from deportation and eventually offer them permanent residency.

However, the act still has not been passed. After being reintroduced multiple times and being passed around amongst the senate for more than 20 years, the act still has not been approved by the majority of congress on either side. However, the latest version of the DREAM Act was approved by the House of Representatives in March  of 2021 and could eventually go on to the senate.  


As a result, nearly 2 million DREAMers sit in perpetual limbo. One of those DREAMers is Elena Hernandez-Cornelio, the president of the Lane Tech DREAMers club. 

Hernandez-Cornelio was born in Mexico. At the age of three she and her mom immigrated to the United States. Elena’s father had been living in the U.S. for some time before that and the family made the decision to be reunited. Spanish was her first language, and Hernandez-Cornelio did not learn English until she was in 5th grade.

“That has always been kind of a barrier that I’ve had throughout school,” Hernandez-Cornelio said.

Growing up, Hernandez-Cornelio did not realize that being undocumented was considered different or brought a set of challenges, until she entered high school. 

“Throughout school, I never really noticed that difference until I got to high school during my junior year, where I noticed there are certain limitations that my status does bring to the table,” Hernandez-Cornelio said.

These limitations have become very apparent for her in regards to the college application process. Since undocumented students cannot apply to FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid), Hernandez-Cornelio has had to go through a much more complicated application process in order to apply to and afford college.

One of the goals of the club is to help prepare their members for college and to help with funding their education through fundraising for the CPS Dream Fund Scholarship.

Unlike Hernandez-Cornelio, Club Vice President Leila Barszcz, and members Dayanary Gomez and Dayanara Reyes are not DREAMers themselves. However, they have all seen the effects of immigration issues and come from similar backgrounds.

Leila Barszcz, who comes from mixed Mexican, Puerto Rican and Polish ancestry, grew up mostly hearing about her family’s immigration stories from her mother’s side. Both her maternal grandfather and grandmother immigrated from Mexico. Her grandmother was only 13.

While her grandparents immigrated to Chicago separately, they eventually met within the city. Throughout their time together, her grandfather has been deported twice. Now, he is considered a “resident alien,” according to Barszcz. 

Barszcz’s paternal side of her family is Polish, but she says she relates more with her heritage on her mother’s side of the family.

  “I mostly resonate with the Mexican side of [myself…] just because that’s what is celebrated and spoken about the most in [my] family,” Barszcz said.

Dayanary Gomez, a member of the club, comes from Mexican heritage too. Both of her parents were born and raised in Mexico. Her mother had to cross the border dressed as a boy. Her whole family has gone through similar experiences, with Gomez stating she has been around other DREAMers and immigrants her entire life. 

Some members of the club such as Hernandez-Cornelio, Barszcz, and Gomez have been affiliated with the club for years, while other members, such as Reyes, are newcomers to the club who were welcomed with open arms.

Barszcz joined the club all the way back in freshman year after Lane’s annual club days event. 

“Immigration is really important to my family, and literally the bones of my family. And so I’ve always felt really connected to immigration, and just the whole process and also the struggle in the process,” Barszcz said. “And so when I found out that there was a DREAMers club, that not only supported, not only led by immigrants, … but was also just a big group that supported and was just there for immigrants and there to make a change within the immigration system, I was there.” 

Like Barszcz, Gomez joined the club freshman year. She joined in order to become an advocate for her family and other immigrants too.

  “There’s a lot of discrimination and problems that come with being an immigrant,” Gomez said. “So I just wanted to be a part of helping make this a better place for them, like better accepting and understanding.”

Reyes joined the club in her junior year after being introduced to it by her friend.

“I think it’s pretty cool how there’s a group of people that you can connect to, who I feel like I can connect to, and share similar experiences with,” Reyes said. 

The DREAMers club is not only a safe space and community for its members but the club is also huge in philanthropy. Last spring the club raised over $1,000 for the CPS DREAMers Fund, which provides scholarship money to CPS students who are DREAMers and/or DACA recipients.

Hernandez-Cornelio takes pride in the club’s philanthropy. Giving back and raising awareness gives the club a chance to connect back to the greater Lane community. An example of this would be the presentations the club gives throughout classrooms at Lane every school year.

“It’s just something that is almost like creating a connection with the rest of the Lane community,” Hernandez-Cornelio said. “Because they also see that more personal side of the club, where it’s not just like, ‘Oh, we’re advocating,’ but it’s more of a reason why we’re advocating, and it really gives the club a purpose. We want the Lane community to know that there are undocumented people in the school and they are represented here.”

The club wants students of Lane to know that the club is open to all, and that it is a caring environment and safe space. 

“I think that when you hear development, relief, and education for alien minors, it’s very common to imagine that this club is only for …immigrants of a certain and specific heritage, which is very far from the truth.” Barszcz said. “We would like others to know that this club is for everyone, and anyone of all backgrounds and people who care about this issue, and people who just want to learn more.”

“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to help. We’re trying to make a difference,” Gomez said. “It’s just a very safe environment. You can talk, we’re here to help.”

Hernandez-Cornelio, Barszcz, Gomez, and Reyes all highly recommend the club to any prospective members or students who are interested/looking for a community to join. 

The club, as of now, is all female. However, with club days after school Wednesday and Thursday week, the DREAMers club is looking to recruit more members. The club is currently looking for more members of all genders and backgrounds, and is open to all students no matter their citizenship status.

“We’re just like a little community, a little family group, that’s just here to help each other at the end of the day,” Gomez said

Club president Hernandez-Cornelio echoed the girls’ statements with her own, further emphasizing the overall mission and goals of the club.

“Any student is welcome, no matter your status. So I really do recommend it. It’s just a great community to be in. And it’s great to educate yourself, because there are so many things that we have to advocate for. But we don’t get to see that representation for undocumented people, especially in Lane, which is a primarily white institution,” Hernandez-Cornelio said. “So we really have to get more students to advocate for this population. And we need as many students as we can. So if you have time, please join.”