A year after President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA students at the University of St. Thomas remain in limbo, uncertain of their future legal status and without direct help from UST in the form of up-to-date DACA information or campus support groups.
The DACA program allows non-citizen individuals who immigrated to the United States as children and who meet several key guidelines (they are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers”) to live in the United States for a renewable two-year period.
When established by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA was intended to be a stop-gap resource while Congress worked on immigration reform. To date, however, Congress has been unable to enact comprehensive immigration legislation even after Trump announced the end of DACA in September 2017.
While some Texas university leaders issued strong statements of support for their DACA students when Trump announced the program would be rescinded, UST’s response was more subdued.
The University did not issue a formal statement, but UST Vice-President for student affairs Patricia McKinley sent two DACA-related emails to students in September 2017. They contained links to off-campus resources for DACA students and referred them to UST’s campus ministry and counseling services for spiritual, emotional and personal support–services that are always available to students.
More recently, in September 2018, UST’s campus ministry hosted an immigration forum that included a University of Houston DACA student as a panelist.
Some UST students said they wished UST would provide them with more specific information and assistance. Former DACA recipient and UST nursing student Mariana Ortiz said she would like to see more emotional counseling for DACA students, especially those whose parents are undocumented.
“I always look at the newsletters [the University] sends out every Monday but there is nothing,” said Ortiz. “There’s all kinds of writing workshops everything like that, even like the ethics happy hours that they post in the restrooms, but nothing for DACA students.”
She said she would also like to see a DACA student society at UST where people can share their experiences and feel supported.
However, McKinley said DACA students usually do not “come forward,” but tend to find support wherever they feel most comfortable.
“You know, it’s hard to ever be in charge of DACA things because it’s very difficult to find DACA students,” McKinley said. “They don’t necessarily voluntarily come forward seeking help, so we don’t really have sort of a formal program that would address that.”
McKinley said she does not know the number of current DACA students on campus. She said the University prefers to help DACA students on a personal level.
“We try to do this on an individual basis, so the people make their own decision what kind of support they need and which sort of resources will be of most value to them,” McKinley said. “Clearly, if a group of students ever came to us and said that they need help in a particular thing, we will not turn a deaf ear to that.”
UST junior biology major Susana Garcia, who asked that her name be changed because of her immigration status, said she looks to organizations outside the University for information as well as financial and emotional support regarding her DACA status. In particular, she said she turns to Univision News and the pro-immigrant United We Dream organization, which has taken DACA students to march in Washington, D.C.
United We Dream referred her to The Mission Asset Fund, which paid her $495 DACA renewal fee in full. The Fund no longer pays renewal fees, but does offer loans.
McKinley said DACA students who need financial help with renewal fees should speak to UST’s financial aid office for resources.
Garcia, whose father brought her from El Salvador when she was 5, said she qualified to be a DACA recipient when the policy was first adopted and has renewed it four times. If DACA were eliminated, Garcia said she would be forced to return to El Salvador, a country she no longer knows.
Garcia said her family stayed in the U.S. after her father’s visa expired in order to escape the violence in El Salvador and to pursue educational opportunities. She said she hopes to become a pharmacist and later a teacher.
“I know for sure that as a DACA student, I’m willing to go, like, three extra miles and work hard for what I want, because I know that I’m very privileged to be here and that at any second I can be sent back,” Garcia said.
In contrast to UST, the University of Houston provides its DACA students with TASFA assistance and grants of up to $1,200, according to the UH website. The University of Houston also has web pages dedicated to DACA information, FAQs, a list of organizations and other resource links helpful to DACA students.
Rice University provides its DACA students with DACA FAQs and University support statements on its website. Rice also has web pages that list on-campus, local and national DACA resources.
One campus organization, the UST League of United Latin American Citizens Council #22334, told the Independent it would be willing to assist DACA students, according Leslie Hernandez, president of the organization.
“If we have students that come forward and tell us ‘Hey, I want some help in regard to my situation with DACA,’ then from that point on, we can start planning on reaching out to the school about doing something, or maybe us ourselves holding an event,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said if any DACA students want to share their experiences and fears with her or other club members, they will do everything they can to help.
Because LULAC is a nonpartisan organization, Hernandez said when it comes to DACA, the organization simply encourages Latino youth to vote. In the past, UST’s LULAC council has held campus voter registration drives.
Although Garcia is not eligible to vote because of her immigration status, she emphasizes the importance of voting. She said she supports Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke, who supports citizenship for DACA recipients and is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas race for U.S. Senate.
She hosted a voter drive at her house and attended O’Rourke’s debate against Cruz at the University of Houston last month.
Garcia said DACA students need to stay positive, continue working hard, be on their best behavior and contribute to American society. She encourages DACA opponents to meet a DACA student, empathize with them and acknowledge their societal contribution.
“We don’t know anything else but the United States,” Garcia said.