CAUSE Leaders

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Elena Hernandez Cornelio | CAUSE President
Mia Mendoza
Mia Mendoza | Newsletter Head
Yamali Rodas | Social Media Manager

CAUSE Advisor

Dr. Miguel A. Saucedo | Director of Post-Secondary Strategic Interventions | Office of School Counseling and Post-Secondary Advising (OSCPA)
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Susana Mares | Undocumented Champion Program Manager
Cesar Calderon | Social Work Intern for CAUSE University of Illinois at Chicago

CPS Students

CPS Alumn

Francisco A. Villaseñor
Valeria Monreal
Viri (1)
Viri Martínez
Isabela Ávila
Ileanne Cecilio
Alejandro Lopez Perez
Alejandro López Pérez
Natalie Velazquez
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Valeria Silva
Maria Mancero

CAUSE Allies

Dra. Joanna V. Maravilla | Website Sponsor
Ada Marys Lorenzana | Guest Speaker

elena hernandez cornelio | she/they

I joined CAUSE the summer of 2020. I found out about CAUSE through my DREAMers club at Lane Tech.

I live in Albany Park, and attend Lane Tech. Outside of CAUSE I do clubs at Lane Tech including DREAMers club and Aztlán. I also do track and swim.

I became involved with CAUSE because I became the CAUSE ambassador and after that i became more interested and involved with the organization. My favorite part of CAUSE is being able to meet new people and work with people with the same values as me. CAUSE has impacted me because it has shown me the struggles that other students go through, and more importantly it has shown me the way students can impact the system if we all strive towards making it better. I do this work and I’m part of CAUSE because it’s purpose it to help make the education system better for undocumented and first-gen students, as someone who falls into these categories this work is very impactful in my life and I know that because of this work I’m potentially helping other students have more resources and hopefully impact their life while being a CPS student. Personally CAUSE has affected me by making me a better person and it’s made me more passionate about this work. CAUSE and the members have shown me that I’m not alone and that there is always a community willing to work towards helping people not knowing anything about them. I hope to see CAUSE doing more work in the future and taking even more steps into helping the undocumented student population so that their experience in school is less stressful and a lot more fair.

Mia Mendoza

Mia Mendoza | she/her

I have been involved with CAUSE since February, 2022. I learned about it through a good friend of mine.

I am from La Villita. I like photography, watching movies, and making bookmarks, outside of school. I go to Walter Payton College Prep. I am involved in all three branches of Latin American Coalition and on the executive board. There is LAC Primos which is a mentoring program for Latine students. There is LAC Action where we have cultured discussions and educate ourselves on social issues pertaining to the Latine community. There is LAC Social, as well, where we have cultural celebrations. I am in Paw Print, the school newspaper. I also participated in a biomedical research-based internship with Northwestern last summer and will be in another this upcoming one. 

Ever since I went to my very first CAUSE meeting I felt so welcome and happy to be there. I love the safe space CAUSE has created. I just joined recently and have already grown a lot as a student organizer. I have learned so much about the work CAUSE has done to expand undocumented student support and am so incredibly proud of everyone involved. I am very grateful to be a part of this amazing community of supportive youth activists and advisors. Since I joined I have been fortunate enough to be part of working on CAUSE’s newsletter column, creating a guide on “how to start an undocumented student support club”, sharing resources, and more. I am very excited to continue being part of this work and building everlasting friendships


I joined CAUSE in September 2021 at around the same time I co-founded the DREAMers club at Jones College Prep. I follow many DREAMer friendly accounts via Instagram, and that is how I stumbled upon CAUSE and wanted to get more involved.

I grew up in various parts of the south side of Chicago, and I currently reside in Englewood. Being a south sider has exposed me to the harsh realities of life, but the community has inspired me to enact social change. I am involved in civic engagement work at a local, regional, and national scale. My leadership roles in nonprofits and associations focus on the advancement of immigrant, queer, and BIPOC youth. Specifically, my work is towards researching opportunities and resources for these marginalized groups and implementing projects addressing any social barriers they face. Through my leadership positions in GLSEN and Active Minds, I am given the platform to educate a wider national audience on proper Latiné terminology and the effects on youth from generational trauma. Through the Illinois Safe School Alliance and After School Matters, I partake in an outreach position that allows me to connect marginalized youth to civic engagement opportunities via workshops, webinars, and summits. In addition to my social activism work, I enjoy reading memoirs from inspiring femmes of color, taking photographs, and staying active by playing soccer or dancing.

Dr. Miguel A. Saucedo | He/Him/His

I’m a Little Village native. I attended Farragut HS. I work for the CPS central office and support all High Schools. My title is Director of Strategic Partnerships and Special Populations.

Dr. Miguel A. Saucedo is a native from Chicago’s Little Village community. He earned his doctorate from the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His dissertation focused on the academic achievement, suspension and expulsion, and criminalization of young Mexican American male students in Chicago Public Schools. He currently serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Special Populations at Chicago Public Schools.

I’m An Unafraid Educator With And For Undocumented Students. CAUSE is one of the core reasons why I serve CPS student and their families. Since 2018, CAUSE co-created many of the initiatives that CPS has launched to support Undocumented Students across the district and beyond. As a result of CAUSE’s research findings and list of recommendations, CPS developed the Chicago Undocumented Champion Credential for all High Schools Counselors and partners.

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My name is Susana Mares, and I am a proud first generation, English Language Learner, and Chicago Public School’s alumna! My family is from Aguascalientes, Mexico. I grew up mostly in the south side of Chicago. First part of my childhood, I lived in the Little Village neighborhood where I attended Eli Whitney Elementary School, but graduated from Richard Henry Lee Elementary School due to moving to the West Lawn area during that year. I am the oldest of three siblings! 

I graduated from John F. Kennedy High School, and attended Northeastern Illinois University. Extremely thankful to my parents that were able to fund my education, since I was not eligible for FAFSA due to a high income. I received very little support in high school in terms of being able to discuss what I wanted to do after high school. With that said, I initially wanted to become an English high school teacher; however, once I began to be in the classrooms when I first started working with Chicago GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) as a part-time tutor, I realized I had a different career interest. I did not realize that there were careers, aside from being a School Counselor, that focused on supporting high school students in navigating post-secondary opportunities. I decided to graduate with a Bachelor’s in English to later apply for a full-time position with GEAR UP. 

I had the opportunity to work with GEAR UP for about 13 years under different roles and capacities. I was very fortunate to serve about six different cohorts from John F Hancock, Foreman, and Farragut Career Academy. In 2019, I achieved my Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership. During the pandemic, I knew it was time to search for another opportunity. I was given the opportunity to work for a Title V Grant at Wright College in partnership with 13 CPS Schools and Northeastern Illinois University as the Director- Student Development Projects. 

Because I come from a family with mixed statuses, serving undocumented students and communities is important to me. I am very grateful to be in this new role as the Undocumented Champion Program Manager. And, I am very excited to work alongside a very committed group of adults, youth, and other stakeholders that want to support this population of students. 

Please contact me if you need to talk more about your options. There are many allies here willing to support you! 

Cesar Calderon | he/him/el
My name is Cesar Calderon and I am a first generation college student and a child of immigrant parents. My parents are from Guanajuato and settled in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood in the northwest side of Chicago. I am attended Hanson Park Elementary School and later Prosser Career Academy. I am a clinical social work intern currently earning my master’s degree at UIC. When I am not working or doing schoolwork, you can find me playing sports, weightlifting, or on a run with my dog.
As a current MSW student, I hope to graduate and ultimately get licensed to bring clinical services to underserved communities of color. I hope to support individuals/communities tend to their socio-emotional needs, be an advocate for systemic changes, and increase mental health awareness. One day, I hope to work with communities to open a center that provides free resources to the public.
I am passionate about working with undocumented students because I would like to be an ally to folks facing a unique set of challenges to access basic resources. I believe the privilege attached to my status as a citizen comes with a responsibility to join undocumented folks in solidarity in their struggles. Since my extended family is of mixed status, I have been able to see the frustrations and challenges the barriers that an undocumented status creates. I have been blessed to attain an education and plan to use it to support those who have made the leap of faith and left everything behind in their home country.

Francisco A. Villaseñor |He/Him

I’ve been involved with CAUSE since January of 2020, and I found out about it after hearing a friend of mine tell me about it during school. I’m from La Villita, and a student at Walter Payton College Prep. I am involved with a lot of different things outside of CAUSE. For example, I am the chair of neighborhood development for the Mayor’s youth commission, and at Payton I have been an executive board member of our school’s Latin American Coalition for the last several years.

I joined CAUSE at the beginning of 2020, and I was only able to attend one meeting before we had to transition to meeting virtually due to COVID. But even so, CAUSE has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had as an organizer and as a young person trying to do good work in Chicago. Through CAUSE, I have been able to meet tons of amazing people and do work that I was interested in. Additionally, CAUSE has taught me a lot about myself as a leader and as a person.
I have found so much joy in the opportunities we’ve had to build community with one another in spite of the really difficult times we’ve had to go through, and it has been amazing to see my peers work together so that we can accomplish things I never could have even dreamed of.
This work matters, and we know it does because these issues directly impacts the communities that we are a part of. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside an amazing group of people that not only have the awareness to identify the problems our communities face, but also have the resolve to work and push towards concrete solutions as well.
As I am looking to transition towards college, I know that CAUSE will always be a part of me. The things we accomplished, like passing CPS wide policy and the construction of this website are all so awe-inspiring. But what I will remember the most are those Saturday mornings when I felt at home and blessed to be surrounded by people that I knew were not just activists, but also my friends.

Valeria Monreal | she/her/hers

I am from the Southeast Side of Chicago. I graduated from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in 2019. I am currently a junior at Loyola University Chicago. Outside of CAUSE, I am involved in the Gannon Scholars Leadership Program, Undocumented and Proud, Undocumented Student Programs, and the Pre-Physician Assistant Association.

I have been with CAUSE since December 26th of 2018. I found out about CAUSE through Luis Narvaez, who mentored me in high school. During my time with CAUSE, I have learned about the varying resources available to undocumented students. I have also learned how to be a mentor to fellow undocumented students. As an undocumented student, my work with CAUSE is truly impactful because during our monthly meetings I become more educated on resources that can not only support me but the other undocumented students that want to pursue higher education.

I am a Biology major on a Pre-Physician Associate track. As a PA, I want to provide culturally competent patient-centered care to underserved communities. I am working towards my career aspirations by attaining my CNA certification and shadowing current Physician Associates.

Viri Martínez | She/her/ella  

For the entirety of my residence here in Chicago, I have always resided in Chicago’s Southside. My neighborhood is West Lawn and Chicago Lawn. Because of this fact, I have decided to focus on working in my community, while focusing more on the developmental aspect of it. If I am not breaking my head studying for my exams, you can find me answering emails and accomplishing my projects in my workplace.

I had started attending CAUSE the last few months before my graduation, this was in February 2019. I found out about CAUSE through Luis Narvaez, as I had attended an IB Summer Workshop in 2018 and decided to reach out to him in the beginning of 2019, when I was beginning the college process. At this time, I felt like I needed the most support, hence why I reached out to him. Since then, I have felt a strong support system, and for that I am grateful.

What makes CAUSE so remarkable is the empowerment and the leadership that is demonstrated. I am genuinely in awe, and quite frankly leave every meeting feeling humbled and honored. I know that the individuals that represent CAUSE are strong leaders, advocating for change, with a passion that fuels their actions. I wish I would have had something of this kind as I was navigating my way through High School. It was because of CAUSE that I decided to take an initiative at my own school and became President of the DREAMers Club. In my world, I envision CAUSE as being a larger, formal organization. I believe that everyone involved has the passion to drive an effort like this one forward. I see CAUSE being a larger organization that is acknowledged on a more formal level, as it continues to be held by the empowering youth of our generation, and generations that precede us.

Expect the unexpected – to have a plan can be advantageous, but often times boring. I am here for the ride, not the destination. I will continue to work in community development and continue to pay it forward by giving back to the communities and people that paved the way for me.

Isabela Ávila | She/Her

I’ve been with CAUSE since we were simply just an idea to connect with other students taking action within their schools. Our first meeting was a group of students from around the city gathered together to make connections, find ways to collaborate, and to lead the way to change our schools to support our communities. This happened my freshman year of highschool, while I was barely joining my own club at school for undocumented students and allies, and since then I’ve taken part in leading our work.

I grew up and still live in the Logan Square neighborhood with my family who’ve been here since immigrating to Chicago from Zacatecas, México. I attend Lane Tech College Prep and am the president of the DREAMers Club there as well. In the past three years I’ve been fortunate to contribute to the ways we’ve educated our community at Lane through presentations on immigration policies, workshops on supporting reform and our own scholarship, and hosting ceremonies to grant a scholarship to students. Starting off from my DREAMers Club and growing CAUSE led me to be able to take more action as an organizer and opened opportunities to be a youth commissioner for the Mayor’s Office, be a youth leader with KINETIC at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and collaborate with other organizations and leaders in Illinois. I’m proud of the ways in which I’ve taken what I’ve learned from growing up in my neighborhood, applied it to supporting the undocumented and immigrant community at my own school’s club, be able to share it across the city, and expand across Illinois and set an example.

CAUSE has played a vital role in my life, although it’s only been a few years, because working alongside our amazing group of student leaders and being guided by adults who put us first has made me realize I’m doing the work I didn’t see anyone else doing and want to continue to do. I’ve made connections with people who I know are looking out for me, and I’m doing the same for them because we understand what this work demands of us. Of course, we are young and in school and that’s usually seen as a reason to not take on more, but we are the ones who know what our schools need and are needed to lead that change. Having the right support, like CAUSE does, opened so many opportunities for myself as an organizer to make change and I am forever grateful for that. Those opportunities have made taking action to support our community as something I see myself doing even after high school as an organizer. In my time with CAUSE as a high school student, I can only hope that I did enough for it to be carried on as time goes on, growing the amount of school clubs involved, and bringing in more aspiring student leaders and making a difference for them while in high school but also guiding them to find what their passions are.

Ileanne Cecilio | they/them

March 2020 – I found out about CAUSE through LAC I am a student at Walter Payton College Prep and am from the Southwest side of Chicago in the McKinley Park area. I also am active in our school’s identity group, (LAC/Latin American Coalition) and enjoy speaking with friends and having discussions on social issues pertaining to Latinx identity and more. I also spend a lot of time working with ASM during the weekdays and the summer, specifically with my choir ensemble where we perform across the city in different venues and explore the city. I am also a part of the Youth Opera Council by the Lyric Opera where we meet on Mondays to discuss opera-related things and meet with artists and opera producers. During the spring I also enjoy playing Ultimate Frisbee with my school team and have games on the weekends.

I heard about CAUSE the fall of my sophomore year from my upperclassmen in my identity group at Payton but started coming to CAUSE right when meetings became remote and through google meets since they were more accessible. I enjoy being a part of CAUSE because not only is it a space to talk about experiences but more specifically it’s geared to take action and help undocumented students in different ways. Not only that but a lot of the action is youth-led so it was a place where I, a first-generation Latinx student, could help out. CAUSE has also been a space where I am able to meet different people and make friends outside of my own community who are working for the same ‘CAUSE’.

Alejandro López Pérez | he/him/él

I have been with CAUSE since August of 2021. I found out about CAUSE through former president Francisco and current president Isabela at the Mayor’s Office.
I am from the Jefferson Park neighborhood and I attend Taft High School where I am the president and founder of the DREAMers and First-Generation Club. Outside of CAUSE I am a Public Health Youth Commissioner at the Mayor’s Office and a chair for the CPS Office of Student Protections and Title IX Advisory Board.
Although I only joined CAUSE in late last year, I am proud to be working along such great people. The support provided here is like no other and the people here at CAUSE have truly created a safe space that inspires me so greatly. I am so involved in advocacy work especially for the undocumented community because my family and community has suffered from inadequate policy on numerous occasions and I just grew sick and tired of not being able to do more. CAUSE has definitely allowed me to impact the community around me directly and be the change I want to see in the world. I hope to see CAUSE as an established organization that is implemented in all high school networks in and outside of Chicago. I truly feel the world will benefit from having CAUSE in its lives. I myself want to pursue policy work related to public health but I have no doubt that the intersectionality between the undocumented community, public health, and various other social issues will allow me to continue doing advocacy work and CAUSE has been the fundamental basis for which I will only grow from. CAUSE not only empowers, but creates future leaders that I know will change the world.

Natalie Velazquez | She/her

I’m from Avondale, located next to Logan Square and I’m currently a senior at Walter Payton College Prep! I love my neighborhood because of the rich culture it has, although some of it is being lost because of gentrification. At school, I lead Allies & Immigrants which is focused on supporting immigrant and first-generation students at Payton by providing a safe space for discussion and by providing resources. I’m also a member of Amnesty International! Outside of school, I provide tutoring through Chicago Teen Mentors and I work at Journey’s. I also love spending time with my family and listening to music!

Valeria Silva | she/her/ella

I think I’ve been part of CAUSE since September 2021 and I heard about it because of a teacher leader at the dream team at Solorio

I am from Gage Park. I go to Solorio High School. Outside of cause I am part of the DREAM team at solorio. I feel like the dream team brings everyone together regardless of status. I also do cross country and track and field for sports as well all year long. Cross country during summer and fall and track for winter plus spring. These are my what keeps me motivated.

Maria Mancero

May 2021, I found out about CAUSE through instagram!

I have lived in the northwest side of Chicago for most of my life, primarily Belmont Cragin where I grew up. I am also a senior at Northside College Prep. At Northside, I am president of Dreamers Club and Latino Club. I love being apart of these communities within my school and wider community because I love meeting new people and hearing about other people’s experiences. It’s important to me that as diverse as my school is, students are both socially and culturally aware of all the different backgrounds people come from. Aside from clubs, I am also in varsity cheerleading and varsity lacrosse at my school. I’ve learned that participating in sports help me manage my time while being able to destress from schoolwork.

I came across CAUSE on social media and was able to connect my schools Dreamers Club with the organization. Since then I have been able to attend their biweekly meetings. I have really appreciated the space that CAUSE has created for us. It has let students from a variety of schools come together and share their experiences with each other. CAUSE has opened my eyes to the ways undocumented students are underrepresented in CPS and in our wider community. What I really love about CAUSE and all of the members is how passionate they are for this community. All the work they do, and the amount of impact they have had on students. As an undocumented student myself I would have never imagined having this incredible support. With the help of CAUSE I have been able to continue supporting my own school community with its Dreamers Club. I have been able to use amazing ideas from other CAUSE members and take their advice in leading my own club. I hope that CAUSE can continue expanding and reaching more audiences because it is crucial that we are able to educate people and make it known that undocumented students have the support they need in their academic careers.


Dra. Joanna V. Maravilla | she/her/hers/la/ella 

I am a first-generation college student, child of immigrant parents – who was born and raised in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. I earned my doctoral degree in curriculum studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and am currently assistant professor of educational leadership – English as a second language in the department of education at Lewis university. My work examines the impact of curriculum and language ideologies on the success of Latinx students in public education. This includes the education of emergent bilingual students, bilingualism, education policy, urban education, the education of undocumented youth and teacher preparation. Through the use of Latinx critical race theory (LatCrit) & testimonio as a methodology, my work focuses on the relationship between language, race, culture, and literacy learning.

As una hija of former undocumented parents and many family members that continue to identify as such, I understand the various ways in which such status impacts the daily lives of youth and their families. It is because of this that I am an unafraid educator and advocate for la causa. The work of CAUSE continues to remind me that we must stay grounded, hopeful and must strive toward ensuring that resources are accessible to all.

Outside of my professional endeavors, I helped co-found and am chair of The Anhelo Project, a non-profit organization providing scholarships to undocumented youth within the state of Illinois, since 2010. I look forward to continuing this work as part of my current and future goals in support of undocumented youth and their families.

Ada Marys Lorenzana | she/her/hers

Growing up in Chicago I noticed there was a need for resources in all aspects of labor, education and criminal justice for undocumented immigrants. I attended Lane Tech College Prep and was the former president of the Dreamers Club. I attended Harold Washington College and currently attend the University of Southern California (USC). While studying at Harold Washington, I founded the Undocumented Students and Allies (USA) student group and worked with Latino Union of Chicago as a fundraising committee member. USA worked with other students organizations, non-profits, and the Mexican Consulate to provide and share resources with undocumented students in Chicago. At USC, I was a student member of Unite Here Local 11 and Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE). SCALE members would aid unionized USC workers to fight for a fair contract and be supported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am a current UCLA Law Fellow and have an interest in immigration law. However, I am hoping to further explore the intersection of immigration and criminal justice and how I can use that knowledge to best help undocumented communities.

As an undocumented student I know firsthand the struggles of trying to pursue an education as well as the anxiety that comes with not having a legal status. A lot of the information I have learned about my rights I have had to learn on my own. No young person should have to stress so much about outside factors that are out of their control. Advocating for undocumented immigrants is crucial to me because too often we are kept in the dark about our rights and resources available to us. I hope that my work helps aid undocumented immigrants so that we may have access to a more equitable and humane life. To see something like CAUSE is inspiring and gives me hope for undocumented students in Chicago.