Meet The Team

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CAUSE Leaders

Isabela Ávila | CAUSE President
Francisco A. Villaseñor | CAUSE President
Ileanne Cecilio

CAUSE Advisor

Dra. Joanna V. Maravilla
Luis Narvaez, MA
Dr. Miguel A. Saucedo

CPS Students

Valeria Sanchez

Club Sponsors

Nayeli Yazmin Fernandez
Gaby Guzman
Quintiliano Rios Perez

CPS Alumn

Kai Mora
Valeria Monreal
Viri Martínez

Guest Speaker

Ada Marys Lorenzana

Isabela Ávila

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.

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.

Ileanne Cecilio | She/Her

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’.

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.

Luis Narvaez, MA | él/he/him/his 

I live in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood but work out of the Loop at the CPS headquarters at the corner of Madison and State. CPS has two main arms, the operational (making sure buildings are open, budgets are in order, teachers are recruited, and community engagement is active) and the academic (including the Office of Teaching and Learning, Early Childhood Education, Office of Diverse Learners, Supports, and Services, and mine, the Office of Language and Cultural Education). I work as the English Learner (EL) Post-Secondary Manager, ensuring all of the district’s bilingual students have a pathway towards college and career success. In my role I get to interact with several other CPS offices and departments and that’s where my role overlaps with Dr. Miguel A. Saucedo’s, who works out of the Office of School Counseling and Postsecondary Advising. Serving as an advisor for CAUSE ensures both immigrant students and bilingual students have the adequate supports needed to pursue their dreams.

I enjoy working as an administrator for the third largest school district in the nation, particularly in the area of bilingual education. I’d like to complete my doctorate degree in Education and continue serving in this capacity. My goal is that all students, regardless of their language proficiency or immigration status, are able to graduate from our district equipped with the tools to be successful in college, career, and life.

I’m a proud immigrant (I was born and raised in Mexico and came to the Chicagoland area at the age of 15), so this work is personal to me. I’ve been with CPS for almost 10 years and for a long time I got to see schools work in silos without providing their students with the opportunity to engage with others across the city and the district. CAUSE is changing that, not only to let undocumented immigrant students that they’re not alone, but to have them strategize, along with their allies, in ways to receive better supports and empower each other while doing so.

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.

Valeria Sanchez | She/Her/Hers

I’m from the Irving Park neighborhood. I’m currently attending to Mather HS. I am in the Dreamers and Allies club of my school. I’ve been with CAUSE since 10/17/2020. I found out about CAUSE in one of my Dreamers and Allies meetings.

My favorite part of CAUSE is that I can feel comfortable talking to each other about personal situations I’ve been through and I feel confident that they’re not going to judge me because I know we are all there to help and support each other as a family. I want to see CAUSE bigger than it is now, I would like to continue being a member of CAUSE and keep supporting people. Also, I want to see CAUSE as a big organization or movement that helps people to fight for their rights.

Nayeli Yazmin Fernandez | she/her 

I am the Manager-High School Transitions at City Colleges of Chicago. I recently worked as a City Colleges of Chicago Post-Secondary Education Navigator in the north side of Chicago at Mather, Sullivan, Ombudsman Northwest, and Uplift. I co-sponsor the Dreamers and Allies Club at Mather and Sullivan. I organize the Breaking Down Barriers Conference and Immigrant & Refugee Student Summit. I am also part of the Undocumented Student Advocate Roundtable planning committee at City Colleges of Chicago. I created these spaces with my colleagues to support our students who belong to these populations. I believe that all students deserve excellent educators. I am committed to advocating for my students, providing them with the resources they need, and guiding them along their path towards meeting their goals.

As a DACA-recipient, I care for my undocumented community. I understand the struggles and challenges undocumented people face in this country because I have experienced them. My students’ experience, my own experience, and my love for social justice are the most important reasons why I am involved in this work. I participate in the CAUSE meetings because they give me hope for our future, and I want to be there if the students need me.

I am currently part of the ENLACE Higher Education Leadership master’s program at Northeastern Illinois University. I am continuously growing in my professional and personal life to be a better advocate and human being.

Gaby Guzman | she/her/hers

I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. I currently live on the north side in Humboldt Park. I work as a Post Secondary Navigator with high school Seniors at Roosevelt, Foreman, Pathways Avondale and Humboldt Park. My work is very similar to that of a College and Career Coach and I love it. Outside of work I enjoy crafting, catching up on my favorite shows, listening to music, and trying out new cooking recipes.

Some things I am currently working on and a part of: The Third Annual Immigrant and Refugee Student Summit, in partnership with CPS we will be bringing together different resources available to this student population. Then there is the City Colleges of Chicago Undocumented Student Round-table. This is a new initiative for CCC and I am so happy that it is coming to life. It is well overdue and I cannot wait to see the great things that will be accomplished for undocumented students. I am also a part of the Anhelo Project Scholarship Review Committee. The Anhelo Project is an awesome organization that provides scholarships for undocumented college and grad school students. CAUSE gives me the inspiration that I need to continue this work. It is so invigorating to see youth so passionate and involved.

I care about working with undocumented students because I feel that at times this is a student population that is often over-looked. I want to let these students know that the world is their oyster. My mother used to say to me that I can do it all, and I believe the same for all of my students. Attending the CAUSE meetings I am seeing first hand that undocumented students can do it all. CAUSE student members continue to push the envelope and in turn give me that extra motivation and push I may need to keep striving for my students. Undocumented students can be successful, all they need is to have resources and supports in place to achieve this. I hope to be that resource and support for my students.


Quintiliano Rios Perez | Him/His

I am from the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Currently do not work at a school but I try to support others schools as much as possible. I am currently a Data and Evaluation Specialist for Community Health. I’m also a musician at the Latin Alternative band Quinto Imperio and member of the Dreamers and Allies Run Scholarship.

I am from the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Currently do not work at a school but I try to support others schools as much as possible. I am currently a Data and Evaluation Specialist for Community Health. I’m also a musician at the Latin Alternative band Quinto Imperio and member of the Dreamers and Allies Run Scholarship.

Growing up as undocumented I was part of different initiatives and programs that supported me in my college journey. When CAUSE was formed, I saw an opportunity for the students I worked with to meet others from around the city and create community. An an immigrant I often felt I was the only one dealing with challenges and would have been great to be a part of a community that understood me. Ironically, I was never part of the Dream Act Club at Kelly High School but became more involved later in my college years.

I hope that initiatives like CAUSE continue to provide community and mentorship form those of us who are a bit older. I hope CAUSE continues to provide those spaces for students to get to know each other and create a Chicagoland community.



Kai Mora

Kai Mora

I am from Englewood but I did attend high school downtown at Walter Payton High School. While at Payton I reinstated the Latin American Coalition at my school and alongside Francisco Villasenor we created Primos a peer-mentoring program for Latinxs at Payton. I now attend Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin. I continue to try and involve myself with the Latinx community at Lawrence.

I worked with CAUSE my last year of high school although my high school (Payton) had been involved with CAUSE for a bit longer. We joined CAUSE to educate, involve ourselves, and amplify the experiences of our undocumented students and families.

Without CAUSE I really don’t know where I would be. I joined on behalf of my school, but as time went on I kept going because of the changes I saw in my own life. CAUSE allowed me to become informed of many scholarships and opportunities open to undocumented students that I hadn’t seen before. I really gained a support network while at CAUSE and even after graduating I continue to reach back out to Luis and Dr.Miguel as they have become role models to me. They have supported my college decisions and advised me on how to make the system work to help me as much as it would any other student.

Because of the great work I saw at CAUSE I recognized I had a passion for helping immigrants succeed and am currently trying to get comprehensive ally training for faculty and staff at Lawrence University! I am also currently an intern for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights so I’m handling the family support hotline. I am currently undecided on my major but as of now I hope to graduate from LU with a double major in Cultural Anthropology and Spanish. I am interested in working with the nonprofit field to support immigrants, but recently I have been eager to learn more about bilingual education.

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.

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.