DACA's Impending End Looms, But Mobilizes Students

Don Chen (PO 18), Jaira Koh (PO 17), and Anais Gonzalez Nyberg (PO 20) at the Defend DACA event on Friday. (Lia Francis-Bongue / The Student Life)

In 2007, an undocumented Pomona College student came to the United States from Mexico with her family seeking treatment for her younger brother’s leukemia. In the process, they overstayed their visa and decided to continue living in California.

“For a while, we thought [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] was going to be a solution to the issue of being undocumented,” the student said. “It meant safety and stability.” The student asked to remain anonymous due to fears of deportation.

Last Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an upcoming end to the DACA program, outraging immigration advocates and leaving the futures of the United States’ nearly 800,000 DACA recipients unclear.

“It still hasn’t sunk in completely,” the student said. “I don’t have a plan in place. If there is no amendment to DACA or a follow-up policy, I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

DACA was enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allowed young undocumented immigrants brought unauthorized to the United States by their parents to apply for a status that lets them live, work, and study without fear of deportation.

DACA recipients were able to apply for a renewal every two years, and can still do so if their current status ends by March 5, according to information released by the Department of Homeland Security. After Oct. 5, however, the Department will no longer accept new applications or requests for renewal.

Despite Trump’s hardline stance on undocumented immigrants throughout his presidential campaign and presidency, he showed sympathy at times for the DACA program.

“We're gonna show great heart,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in February. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you."

In a statement last week, Trump called on Congress to act, noting that his six-month phase-out of DACA offers a “window of opportunity” to pass an immigration bill. He also tweeted that Congress has six months to “legalize” the program, and will “revisit the issue” if they do not.

Trump’s statements, however, did not assuage fears among organizations at the 5Cs, which rallied behind undocumented immigrants and organized a phone banking event last Friday. Students called and emailed U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to support DACA and pass an immigration bill.

“People have a right to be in the United States without fear of deportation and harassment based on immigration status,” said Wentao Guo PO '19, one of the phone bank organizers. The event “was really about pushing representations to develop and pass lasting legislation to protect undocumented people.”

5C administrations have also shown support for undocumented students. Following the announcement of DACA’s upcoming cancellation, all five colleges sent emails of support notifying students of resources such as the Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services Center and the Chaplains of the Claremont Colleges.

 

Helena Essex (PO 20) calls U.S. representatives at the Defend DACA event. (Lia Francis-Bongue / The Student Life)

But support for undocumented students – as well as undocumented and DACA student admissions policies – differs across the five colleges.

The undocumented student believes Pomona College has the most comprehensive services, which include an emergency fund for immigration-related costs, pro bono legal services, letters for undocumented students confirming their good standing at the college and lawyers specifically consulted for the G28 form – a form for detained students.

“Colleges and universities, as leaders of higher education, must support members of our society,” Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said. “Without comprehensive immigration reform, we can’t do that. We need to advocate for a legislative remedy for the rescinding of DACA.”

Pomona is not, however, a “sanctuary school,” which typically refuses to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials seeking undocumented students. Feldblum said that while “Pomona does in practice all that campuses that call themselves sanctuary campuses do,” the term “sanctuary college” does not have the legal meaning that “sanctuary city” or “sanctuary state” can have.

“People are trying to use the term ‘sanctuary campus’ because it seems to speak to support, and I fully resonate with the desire to speak to support," Feldblum explained. "The way to do that is to actually say what we’re doing and not to use a designation that does not necessarily have substance and can cause confusion.”

If ICE showed up on campus searching for a student, Feldblum said that Pomona would require a warrant and challenge any subpoenas in court. Pomona will “use anything in terms of legal means and public voice to make sure that it is doing all that it can," she said.

Pitzer College declared itself a sanctuary school last November. Pitzer President Melvin Oliver wrote in a recent campus email that Pitzer is “concerned that important members of our community — immigrant students, DACA students, Muslim students — will be targeted because of their immigration status or religious beliefs.”

Generally, students have called for 5C administrations to do more in support of DACA.

Tanvi Rajgaria PO '18 suggested a rapid response team in case ICE comes to campus, which could include an instant text system to notify students and provide places of refuge.

One undocumented and DACA 5C student who requested to remain anonymous said there should be more mental health services geared specifically toward undocumented students.

“This is not just about the ability to work or to study. The phasing out of DACA is psychological warfare,” the student said. “Being undocumented impacts you emotionally in a way that nothing else can.”