An Oyate Group staffer distributes material at a workshop for undocumented migrants.Photo: Andrew Ancheta.

A potential payday for undocumented kids

Professional development is a major hurdle in immigrant communities, where many kids do not have the official documents to work legally. But a group of undocumented high schoolers from the Bronx and upper Manhattan is close to finishing a paid internship that provides life experience and a weekly paycheck. 

The internship program, dubbed Beyond Rising, is the result of a collaboration between Oyate Group, a nonprofit organization based in Mott Haven, and two undergraduate institutions. Four days a week, the high schoolers go to work at Lehman College or Fordham University, where they help out in admissions or other administrative offices. In return for their efforts, they receive a weekly stipend of $500 in prepaid Visa gift cards. 

Staff at Oyate Group hope the internship can help undocumented students develop workplace skills while earning an income. 

“The city does not provide paid internships through their Summer Youth Employment Program towards undocumented youth,” explained Jason Autar, Chief Operating Officer for Oyate Group. “We took it upon ourselves to develop this program to help this specific population.”

There are around 33,000 undocumented children in the New York City school system, according to figures published by the city government. These kids will face a disadvantage after they graduate: although undocumented people have a high level of workforce participation, their median earnings are lower than the wider population. They are also ineligible for most government benefits, leading to high levels of poverty.

“This is a whole generation of people that need workforce development skills,” Autar added.

In addition to the four days of work experience, students at Oyate also develop other essential skills. On one recent Friday, students learned the basics of savings and borrowing from Olga Baez, a financial planning coach from the nonprofit StriveHigher. Afterwards, they brainstormed business ideas with the founder of Cambio Labs, a social entrepreneurship organization.  

While students come from a “variety of backgrounds,” staff did not say how many different nationalities are represented in the program, or how they came to the U.S.

“One thing that we don’t ask is their personal experience,” Auter explained. “As long as they are undocumented, they qualify for this program. “

Beyond Rising started last summer as a pilot program with 20 students, interning at different administrative offices at Fordham University. This year, 45 of the 300 students who applied were accepted. The nonprofit also added Lehman College for additional work placements. Oyate is hoping to grow to around 60 students by next summer, and start a part-time internship during the school year as well.

Eighteen-year old Beatriz had tried applying for other internships through her school, but the process was complicated because she does not have a social security number.  (Oyate Group advised students not to share too identifying information, due to their undocumented status.)

“I was like, I don’t want to do internships if it’s going to take this long,” she explained. “Finding internships is a lot harder [without documentation], but Oyate didn’t need stuff like that.” 

It’s also a chance for students to use their skills in a workplace setting. “In Oyate we learned a lot of things,” said Arefin, a seventeen-year-old senior who plans to study business.

Along with Beatriz and some other students, Arefin spent the summer working for an immigrant-centered nonprofit called Her Migrant Hub, researching the needs of immigrant families and designing pamphlets to help newcomers find the services that they need.

And staff say that the interns’ mentors have been impressed by the students’ development. 

“We were just at Lehman college yesterday. The different site supervisors were just talking about the growth that they see with the students,” said Augustina Warton, director of programming at Oyate Group. “We’re all just really happy that we’re able to provide a program like this.”

Oyate Group will open applications for the fall internship in late August, although the application date has not yet been fixed. For the fall internship, both documented and undocumented students will be able to apply


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