At a workshop being held tomorrow at Pomona College, students from the Claremont Colleges will help undocumented immigrants from the Inland Empire take advantage of a new federal program that could offer temporary relief from fears of deportation.
The Draper Center for Community Partnerships at Pomona, the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) at Pomona and IDEAS, a 5C organization that provides support to immigrant students, decided to organize the workshop after President Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June.
DACA makes it possible for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to receive deferred action—a temporary license to stay in the country—if they are under 31 years old and meet other criteria, including education or military service.
“Inland Valley has a very high number of people who are eligible for DACA,” said Maria Tucker, director of the Draper Center. “We just don’t have the same infrastructure out here to have a whole lot of workshops.”
As a result, many Inland Empire residents end up traveling to L.A. to get help with their applications, said Sefa Aina, the director of the AARC.
“We wanted to step up and be a resource to the community,” Aina said.
At the workshop, student volunteers will review applications and prepare them for submission to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Approximately 60 students were trained to review documents by lawyers from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Tucker said.
Aina said that DACA is having a huge impact on the Asian immigrant population.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s largely unknown, because the narrative of immigration and particularly undocumented people is that it’s a Hispanic issue,” Aina said.
In the University of California system, 40 percent of undocumented students are Asian, and the proportion is similar at Pomona, he said.
“I think it’s important for the API [Asian-Pacific Islander] population to address the undocumented issue because it gets underrepresented in mainstream media a lot,” said Jessie Yu PO ’13, a student organizer with the AARC.
The misperception that undocumented immigrants are almost all Hispanic can lead to translation issues, said Nikki Chang SC ’15, who also works with the AARC. According to Yu and Chang, the USCIS makes some documents and applications available in only English, Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese, leaving out many Asian languages, including Korean.
“It falls onto local communities to translate these documents,” Chang said.
Yu added, “An important part of our workshop was to bring fluent speakers … in order to make sure that people who aren’t necessarily fluent in English have access to those resources.”
Beyond being a resource to the Asian-American community, holding the workshop is “just something that’s in line with the mission of the college and the spirit of the college,” Aina said.
“I think it’s something to be proud of that we support undocumented students on our campus,” he said.
Tucker said that Pomona does not discriminate against undocumented students in the admissions process. Because of a policy change at Pomona several years ago, undocumented students can access private aid, Aina said.
As a result, Pomona has more undocumented students than many other colleges, including the other 5Cs, Tucker said.
Both the Draper Center and the AARC work to provide support to undocumented students.
“They’re obviously in a precarious situation,” Aina said. “They don’t like to let their status be known by too many people, so if they have questions that need answers, a lot of times we’ll do that. We’ll see what their most common issues are being students here and try to figure out how we as a college can support that.”
Some of the students Tucker and Aina work with have applied for deferred action.
“I think one of the things that surprised a lot of us was the quickness of reply by the government infrastructure to the applications,” Tucker said. “Several of our students have already heard back and have work permits, and some have gotten Social Security cards.”
Still, the focus of tomorrow’s workshop is on undocumented immigrants throughout the community, Aina said.
“There’s a difference between the students who get to go to Pomona and the Claremont Colleges and the wider community,” Aina said. “Here at Pomona we do a pretty good job at creating a safety net, but we also acknowledge that there isn’t that same safety net for the community, so one of the things we hope to get out of this is to really start to establish a relationship with the community.”