Undocumented students at CU are facing additional stress as speculation rises that the Trump administration will cut the DACA program.
Named “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” the program was created in 2012 as an executive order from then-President Barack Obama. DACA allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16-years-old to receive a two-year deferral of removal and a work permit. DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, but it can be renewed indefinitely.
So far, the Trump administration has not made any changes to DACA, despite President Trump taking a hard stance against it during his election campaign. In light of the recent executive orders barring immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, many worry that other immigration policies like DACA are next on the cutting board.
There are currently 72 DACA students at CU, according to INVST program director Sabrina Sideris. Despite the common stereotype that undocumented people in the U.S. are from Mexico and Latin America, about one-third of CU’s DACA students are from countries outside of Latin America, including places such as China, Ghana and Thailand, according to David Aragon, assistant vice chancellor in CU’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.
Aragon said that there is a student group for undocumented students, Inspired Dreamers at CU, and the administration is putting together a task force of staff, faculty and students to identify the needs of undocumented students.
Aragon also said there was a need for greater understanding in the larger CU community about undocumented students. “On average, DACA students arrived in the U.S. at six years of age,” he said. “Their entire experience has been in the U.S. and they really don’t know any other country besides the United States.”
Law professor Violeta Chapin said the undocumented students she’s worked with have been dealing with “a heightened level of unease” since the presidential election and are experiencing a great deal of stress around the future of their legal status in the country.
Chapin runs a law clinic at CU that provides free legal advice to DACA students and helps them to renew their applications, which must be re-applied for every two years. She said the clinic is still helping students renew their applications, but they are no longer helping people with first-time applications due to the risk involved.
“Right now, I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. government is cracking down on unlawful immigrants and it’s not the time to do it,” Chapin said, since DACA involves declaring oneself to the government.
Chapin said that one of the biggest hurdles that comes with being an undocumented college student is lack of access to financial aid. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal loans, without which a college education would not be feasible for many people. The INVST Community Studies at CU currently has a scholarship for undocumented students in their summer program, and the Colorado ASSET bill allows undocumented Coloradans to pay in-state tuition and apply for financial aid for CU. Besides these, there is little other financial aid for undocumented students.
Chapin said she would like to see CU’s administration create more financial aid opportunities for undocumented students, because even if DACA is repealed, undocumented students are still legally able to attend college.
Another issue Chapin said gave her concern for undocumented students were two executive orders President Trump signed into law on Jan. 25. One of the orders, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” makes any undocumented person who has committed or been charged with a crime a priority for removal.
“All of the sudden, you’re a priority for removal, even if you only have traffic offenses, or have been charged with a crime and haven’t even been convicted of one — that to me is the terrifying bill,” Chapin said. She also said this bill could affect undocumented students at CU, some of whom have minor offenses such as parking violations or minor in possession tickets.
The other executive order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” extends the reach of customs and border patrol within the interior of the United States.
It remains to be seen what will happen to DACA under the new administration, and, for the time being, undocumented students’ protections are still in place. Chapin spoke highly of the DACA students at CU, saying they were dealing with the additional stress in a very mature way.
“I’m just tremendously impressed with them and I hope that we, as a school, are able to support and encourage future generations to come to college, given that there is still no imminent change to our immigration laws,” she said.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at email@example.com.