By MELINA CASILLAS and NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
Ana, a student at Pima Community College and the University of Arizona, came to the United States when she was 2.
She came with her parents and brother, because her parents thought it was the best thing to do for their children.
“It’s not like Mexico had a bad life for us, it’s just there was more opportunity,” Ana said. “Not only economic rights, but education rights for my brother and I.”
Ana, who asked that her last name not be used, works with the UA Immigration Student Resource Center to create a safe environment for those in the same situation.
“I think that it’s crazy, and as dumb as it is, it also strikes fear,” she said. “Not only in yourself but in the family and your community, and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly referred to as DACA, is an executive order signed by President Obama in June 2012.
The policy allows undocumented immigrants who migrated to the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to be eligible for work permits and protection from deportation for two years, with a renewable application.
Students who take advantage of the policy are referred to as Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAMers.
Those who are eligible pay a $495 fee, an increase from $465 as of December 2016. DACA students must also provide fingerprints and other biometrics for an $85 fee and prove they have not had any criminal convictions.
As of September 2016, over 800,000 DACA applicants have been accepted nationally. Nearly 4,000 of those reside in Pima County, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The DREAMers were fearful before Obama’s executive order in 2012. The order allowed them to step out of the shadows to continue their education and build a better life in the ‘land of opportunity.’
However, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer began erecting barriers for DACA students as soon as the policy took affect.
Brewer issued a state executive order to deny the DREAMers driver’s licenses they were eligible for in 2012.
In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge David G. Campbell overturned Brewer’s order, allowing DREAMers to receive their licenses.
Before that, Proposition 300 was passed in 2006. It made undocumented immigrants ineligible for in-state tuition. Children who had grown up in Arizona most of their lives were now required to pay out-of- state tuition.
Maricopa County Community College District challenged this; allowing in-state tuition to DREAMers. Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne took the district to superior court. The court ruled in the college’s favor.
As of Jan. 10, current Attorney General Mark Brnovich has begun the appeal process to block DREAMers from receiving in-state tuition once again.
DACA students at PCC currently receive in-state tuition according to PCC’s website.
After a ruling by Federal Judge Arthur Anderson in 2015, all three state universities have been required to offer in-state tuition for these students.
While DACA students pay in-state tuition they are not eligible for any federal aid, including FAFSA.
UNCERTAIN POLITICAL CLIMATE
Now that Donald Trump is president,uncertainty fills the air for the DREAMers and all undocumented immigrants alike.
In a press conference, Trump said “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, because you have these incredible kids, in many cases not in all cases.” He also said he will deal with DACA “with heart.”
However, on Feb. 10, DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina was arrested in Seattle.
According to the Los Angeles Times, immigration officials say that Ramirez was a “self-admitted gang member” and arrested him for safety reasons.
Ramirez’s attorney disputed that saying he’d never been convicted of a crime and that he was pressed by immigration officers to falsely admit to the accusations.
Protests around Washington State have already begun in solidarity with Ramirez.
Locally, organizations like the University of Arizona’s International Student
Resource Center, are working to protect the rights of DACA students by supplying training to staff.
ISRC also speaks to the Arizona Board of Regents about making the college a sanctuary zone.
ISRC is also working with a Barrett Honors College student to create an app to alert students of where Border Patrol or other officers are seen around the Tucson area.
Advocacy groups like Scholarships A-Z are also helping DACA students, providing them with assistance in finding private scholarships for school and other immigration resources.
Many volunteers for Scholarships A-Z are also DACA students.
COLLEGE OFFERS HOPE
Although the situation is grim, there are helping hands at many institutions, though some are safer than others. That is evident in letters sent out after the proposal to end the DACA program by the Trump administration.
Chancellor Lee Lambert put out a statement Jan. 30, saying, “The College is reviewing action we could take to ensure students and employees feel secure, respected and supported.”
Pima does stand behind their employees; the email also lists links to help, and others to make an informed decision.
Ann Weaver Hart, president of UA, put out a statement, Nov. 24, 2016. With only 70 DACA students, they represent less than one percent of the student population.
“The UA statement publicly stakes out our position on protecting DACA student information,” she said.
“Providing advice and counsel for those students and ensuring any educational aspiration underway at the UA can be successfully completed regardless of events.”
Although the university had good intentions, many DACA students did not think the letter was clear enough on how it would protect them.
“President Hart, who’s president here at the UA, said she would protect DACA students in all her abilities,” Ana said.
“However coming together with other DACA students we thought it was vague, it didn’t really say anything or like actions to protect.”
A student at the UA felt so unsafe that he transferred to Pima.
“One DACA student left UA to transfer to Pima, because there are more opportunities there and it’s a safer environment,” Ana said.