Immigrant Advocates Say Federal Dismantling Of DACA Not A Done Deal

Staff of the Fullerton College Grad to Be Program: (left to right) Thomas Choe, Maria Laura Etcheverry, Melisa Valdovinos, and Gilberto Valencia. The center helps the campus' undocumented students. (Courtesy of Fullerton College)

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A Department of Homeland Security memo released Tuesday takes aim at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, dampening the hopes of some college students. But it's also emboldening the advocates who help these students to carry on with their work.

The memo states that no new DACA applications will be approved, and current DACA recipients must pay nearly $500 to renew their permit yearly instead of every two years. It also lays out reasons to dismantle the program — a devastating and terrifying message for one Southern California college student.

"I came from the Philippines when I was seven years old," said a 22-year-old college student who asked to be anonymous because of her immigration status.

She's enrolled in the DACA program, which gives her protection from deportation and authorization to work. She plans to transfer from her community college to UCLA in the fall. The DHS memo was tough news for her.

"It makes me scared for what the future holds. I know the Trump administration is just going to keep coming [after DACA]," even though, she said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month against President Trump's attempt to dismantle the program.


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The administration made clear in the memo that the steps it's taking against longtime U.S. residents are part of its broader approach to stop people from immigrating to the U.S.

In the memo, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf wrote: "I am concerned that retaining the policy creates some risk of communicating the contrary message and encouraging such illegal conduct by suggesting a potential for similar future policies."

The 22-year-old student said, "Everybody thought, you know, [United States Immigration and Citizenship Services] will start taking applications again, so that new students, new people could apply for DACA."

She said last month's Supreme Court ruling gave some of her undocumented friends hope that they could enroll in DACA, but not anymore.

ADVOCATES PRESS ON WITH DACA APPLICATIONS

Immigrant rights advocates, though, are sending the opposite message.

"We are going forward with helping people prepare their paperwork," said Anna Manuel, a staff attorney with the University of California Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Her office helps undocumented college students at all but one of UC's nine undergraduate campuses. She said last month's Supreme Court ruling led more undocumented students than usual to seek help from her office to apply for DACA. Manuel said there's pent-up demand for the program because applications haven't been approved for several years.

This week's memo is not law, Manuel said, and its directives could be set aside through a legal challenge. "Or there could be an election [result] in November where it's not moot" to send in DACA applications, she said.

So that's leading Manuel and her colleagues to continue organizing webinars and other programs to help students prepare their DACA applications. The process can take months.

By one count there are about 75,000 undocumented students enrolled in California's public colleges and universities. Most campuses have hired staff to help support students who are undocumented with academic, legal, and financial help.

Fullerton College, which enrolls more than 700 students who are undocumented, is undeterred by the DHS memo.

"We still will be providing resources and referrals for [undocumented] students," said Cecilia Arriaza, the director of Fullerton College's Transfer Center. She also oversees Grads To Be, the program that serves students who lack legal immigration status.

"You're coming to an educational institution and we ask you about your goals or where you want to transfer," Arriaza said. "But it's hard for students to get to that point if they're worried that they or their parents will be deported."

Summer break and the pandemic has made it hard for Arriaza and her staff to check in with students. But she's moving forward with plans to offer a video conference check-in next week to answer students' questions.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Cecilia Arriaza's name. LAist regrets the error.