Dreamers Summit Aims to Relieve Fears of Undocumented Students

Commencement

Noelia Gonzalez scheduled Stan State’s Dreamers Summit shortly after the November presidential election. By the time the summit was held on Feb. 24, the details of her message changed several times.

Addressing the uncertainty about the immigration status of undocumented people living in the U.S. — a population that includes about 250 Stan State students — was the purpose of the Summit, which drew around 150 people to the campus Event Center.

“We want to get information to the students to let them and their families know what their rights are,” said Gonzalez, director for admissions and financial aid and chair of Stan State’s Dreamers Committee. “But more than that, we want the students to know we’re here for them. We’re a support system to help them get through this time.”

Of the summit attendees, about 60 percent were Stan State students and the rest were teachers and staff members, as well as guests from area high schools and community colleges looking for information to share on their campuses. The summit featured guest speakers Jesus Martinez from the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative and Allison Davenport, a staff attorney with the Immigration Legal Resource Center.

Since 2012, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced, more than 750,000 people have registered nationally for what essentially is an agreement of protection from deportation for a two-year renewable period. People who came to this country as children and met several key criteria, including remaining clear of major legal infractions and/or posing no security threat, were eligible to apply. When a student is declared eligible for DACA, they can pursue higher education without fear of arrest of deportation due to their undocumented status. Also, in California, undocumented students who graduated from California high schools are eligible to pay in-state tuition through AB 540, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001.

“I am undocumented and I am a dreamer. I came here when I was eight years old so I’ve been living here for 16 years,” said Stan State student Natalia Hermosillo, who is working toward her degree in liberal studies with a bi-lingual/cross-cultural concentration and a minor in ethnic studies. “It’s important to expand our knowledge and explain to people what DACA is, or a Dreamer is. I feel the need to learn more about it so I can talk about it.”

Living in fear of arrest and deportation is second-nature to most undocumented persons, and many of those fears were redoubled during the recent presidential campaign. During the campaign season, President Trump emphatically stated he would revoke DACA. Since his election, he has stepped back from that ultimatum, but as yet has not announced any specific plan.

The California State University Chancellor’s Office has responded to the issue. On. Feb. 21, only three days before the Dreamers Summit, Chancellor Timothy White issued the following statement in an effort to address the fears of Dreamers:

“We do advise any member of our CSU community — students, faculty and staff — who is approached while on campus by federal, state or local officials asking for information or documentation regarding immigration status, to immediately contact the University Police Department,” Chancellor White wrote. “The University Police Department will act as a liaison with the on-site official, and will coordinate with the [CSU] Office of General Counsel to provide guidance, references and resources as available.”

But as Gonzalez said, there’s little more that can be done for Dreamers to alleviate the fear except to encourage them to remain informed.

“I think we would be able to measure success by seeing more students comfortable with coming to us to talk,” Gonzalez said. “I can see why they wouldn’t come to apply for services for which they’re eligible, but we want to make them comfortable doing so.”

For Hermosillo, staying informed has created a conundrum. She knows her own safety is dependent upon keeping up on the latest changes to DACA, but she admits watching the news only deepens her own fears.

“I try to avoid the news because it creates more anxiety for me, and I have to keep up on work and my studies,” she said. “Last week there was one day I didn’t go to work because I heard there were people being detained near my job in Crows Landing — even though I have DACA status and I’m protected.

“But I know I can’t block myself from the news because it is my reality.”