By Sadie Peckens
City College must continue to provide and expand support to students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Strong action is essential in the face of the outrageous, horrific, and relentless attacks on immigration being led by the Trump administration.
DACA legislation was passed in 2012 under former President Barack Obama to protect Dreamers, defined as undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday. It is essential legislation built to ensure recipients can work and attend school, in part by providing a social security number.
But DACA has been under continuous threat from Trump and his administration. In June, the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration had rescinded DACA improperly. But shortly thereafter, on July 28, acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf issued a memorandum rewriting the terms of DACA. The program no longer allows new applications and now requires annual renewal rather than renewal every two years. The new terms and the constant threat to DACA are excruciating for undocumented City College students and community college students throughout California.
According to the California Community Colleges website, up to 70,000 students who are DACA recipients are enrolled in the state’s community colleges. City College benefits from a portion of this large constituency. City DREAM estimates there are around 500 undocumented students, including DACA recipeint students and students who qualify for the AB 540 non-resident tuition exemption.
City DREAM is the City College resource center for students who are undocumented or affected by immigration and citizenship matters. The City DREAM center opened in the Fall of 2019. Services include financial aid advising, a virtual help counter, events and workshops.
“We are a Sanctuary College in a Sanctuary City in a Sanctuary State,” the City College About webpage states, and displays the promise, “DACA students welcomed and we are committed to empowering their academic journey in a safe environment.”
Free immigration legal services for City College students, faculty and staff are provided through a partnership with the Immigration Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA) San Francisco office. According to IIBA Paralegal Leslie Hernandez, the partnership began in March of 2019 and service began in 2020. IIBA staff provide an initial screening and legal support for DACA recipients, some family-based petitions, and naturalization/citizenship applications. IIBA can also fund the $495 DACA renewal fee.
The IIBA program with City College is administered and funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the California Department of Social Services, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges. Hopefully, as the new program expands locations it will also aim to expand services. Currently, it does not provide representation for people in immigration court proceedings or support to people applying for asylum status, both of which are important areas of need.
City DREAM Coordinator Jacqueline Yañez Martinez said an additional goal is to “allow students to create bonds in their community. I think that’s very important right now. It is a sensitive semester. A lot is going on politically.” Martinez witnessed how deeply painful the July 28th memorandum was for potential first time DACA applicants, whose hopes had been raised just one month prior.
City DREAM is working to expand its partnerships. Early conversations with the City College health center are underway, in an effort to provide additional mental health services, including a specialist.
The center also hopes to expand grant opportunities. “Our students don’t get the financial support that other students do. Many don’t qualify for the Cal Grant,” Martinez explained. Grants require state and institutional funding.
The City DREAM resource center is doing strong work and building crucial partnerships. That is part of what is needed to truly empower undocumented students. City College includes administration, faculty, staff, and students. All of City College has a role to play in supporting undocumented students.
Martinez pointed out the importance of faculty who understand how to support City DREAM students. To that point, the center offers awareness and sensitivity trainings. Flex day workshops review how classes are run. “For example, political science classes. How do they talk about this issue? Are they being sensitive to the students in the class who are experiencing this first hand,” Martinez said. Faculty should be required to attend flex day trainings coordinated by City DREAM and put what they learn into action.
California Community Colleges Undocumented Student Action Week is October 19-23. A series of webinars will be offered, including a faculty track about how to be an ally. City DREAM will also provide a workshop series that week. Staff and students should attend and use what they learn in ally training.
The administration must ensure continued funding for City DREAM. In the wake of significant cuts to staff and classes at City College, the need to protect funding is important to note. In fact, additional services must be supported.
Everyone at City College can take steps towards being an ally for DACA recipient and undocumented students. In doing so, City College can deliver beyond sanctuary, towards empowerment and solidarity.