Aldair Arriola-Gomez PO ’17 has friends, support, and a stable community at Pomona College. But he’s aware that his life could be torn apart at any moment.
Arriola-Gomez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary and Mexican citizen, says the possibility of DACA’s elimination is “an issue that’s always in my mind.”
DACA, which permits certain U.S. residents who entered the country illegally as minors to apply for a status that prohibits deportation and allows work eligibility, is the result of an executive order, which means it could be rescinded instantly by President Donald Trump, who has long had a contentious relationship with Mexico.
In the first speech of his presidential campaign last June, Trump famously accused the United States’ southern neighbor of sending rapists, drugs and crime across the border. One of his campaign’s central policy proposals was the construction of a border wall to curb illegal immigration, and on Jan. 27 he threatened to send U.S. troops to Mexico if President Enrique Peña Nieto failed to control “bad hombres.”
Trump’s administration has moved quickly to address illegal immigration; on Feb. 21, the Department of Homeland Security released two memos detailing new practices for immigration officials.
The memos include rules implementing remote video conference hearings so that undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border can be immediately deported and have hearings later; directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to “plan and implement enhanced counternetwork operations directed at disrupting transnational criminal organizations”; and creating the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office.
Notably, however, the memos make no reference to DACA, which former President Barack Obama signed into law in 2012. People must reapply to DACA every two years, and the fee is $465.
The DACA process is terrifying for many undocumented immigrants because they have to give the government personal information about who they are and where they live, Arriola-Gomez said, which “is a little scary for any undocumented immigrant to offer that up.”
“If [Trump] was to cancel DACA, many DACAmented students and people are worried that that data that has been given to the government will be used to target those people,” he said.
Although Arriola-Gomez isn’t sure that sort of targeting would occur, he is constantly worried about his family members, who do not have DACA protection.
“It’s not just me — I’m not here in this country by myself,” he said. “There are also other people who I care about who don’t qualify for this [program].”
Despite his tough stance on immigration, however, Trump has shown sympathy for the DACA program.
“We’re gonna show great heart,” Trump told reporters at a press conference Feb. 16. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.”
“To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases,” he added. “And some of the cases, having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly.”
On Tuesday, Trump unexpectedly expressed openness for a bill that would grant legal status to many undocumented immigrants.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” he told reporters.
Pomona College Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Seth Allen wrote in an email to TSL that approximately 4 percent of the college’s 1,640 students are either DACAmented or undocumented, which amounts to about 65 students.
Arriola-Gomez believes this number is significantly higher than at other Claremont colleges, which he said have different rules about whether undocumented students can apply for financial aid and scholarships.
Allen said Pomona treats all students who graduate from U.S. high schools as domestic students for purposes of admissions, regardless of documentation.
“Pomona’s admissions and financial aid policies of need-blind admissions and meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need for undocumented students is longstanding and predates DACA, supporting Pomona College’s goals of attracting a most intellectually capable and talented student body, regardless of citizenship,” Allen wrote.
At Claremont McKenna College, undocumented and DACA students are likewise treated as domestic students in the admissions process, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Jeff Huang wrote in an email to TSL. Huang noted that these students can apply for financial aid and merit-based scholarships due to the California DREAM Act.
Though Harvey Mudd College declined to provide statistics about undocumented students, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Thyra Briggs wrote in an email to TSL that undocumented students are considered international students for the purposes of financial aid. Admissions for international students at HMC is not need-blind, meaning that students who need financial aid are less likely to be admitted.
Scripps told TSL in 2012 that its policy toward undocumented students is the same as HMC’s, but in an email to TSL, associate director of media and public relations Karen Bergh wrote that this year the college started a policy of admitting one undocumented or DACA student and providing that student need-based financial aid.
“Our senior management team continues to explore additional programs and policies that will unify, educate, and support Scripps students, faculty, and staff who face uncertain outcomes as a result of changing federal policies,” Bergh wrote, sharing information Scripps has previously written on the subject. “We will not voluntarily provide any information about immigration status or other personal and private information about our students to federal agencies.”
Pitzer College, which declared itself a sanctuary institution last November, emailed a statement saying that it “will not be releasing recruitment, financial aid or admission information for the protection and privacy of students safeguarded by this status.”
In 2012, Pitzer told TSL that it had four undocumented students currently enrolled. Ángel Pérez, Pitzer’s then-vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, wrote in an email to TSL that undocumented students were placed in a separate category from domestic and international students, and could be eligible for a special scholarship.
Today, Pitzer’s website says it awards one need-based scholarship to an undocumented California high school graduate each year.
Though Pitzer wouldn’t disclose admissions statistics, it is explicit about its support for undocumented students.
In his sanctuary announcement to the school community last November, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver said that Pitzer “will not voluntarily comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or other public authorities, in any investigation of the immigration status of any member of our community.”
Similarly, CMC Dean of Students Sharon Basso told students in a November email that “unless legally compelled to do so, CMC will not permit [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] officials to conduct immigration enforcement activities and CMC will not voluntarily produce documents or otherwise provide information in relation to any student’s immigration status.”
Pomona President David Oxtoby expressed a similar sentiment.
“We neither share … immigration status information nor permit ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or any law enforcement agency to conduct immigration enforcement activities on our campus,” he wrote in a November email to Pomona students. “If government agencies act to compel us to do so, we will use our voice in the community and our legal resources in support of our students, staff and faculty.”
Oxtoby’s “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students” has more than 600 signatures from college presidents around the country, including those of all five Claremont colleges.
Arriola-Gomez appreciates the support network he has in Claremont.
“I’m comfortable and thankful that I have a community that I can talk to about these issues — I’m not by myself,” he said.
Still, his chief concern is for his family.
“It’s one thing for colleges and institutions to support DACAmented students,” Arriola-Gomez said, “but I wouldn’t want to stay here if my family members were deported.”