By Gabriel Sandoval
Aldo is worried, indeed afraid, that President Donald Trump may soon end or phase out a federal deportation-relief program, making it harder for him to live, work and study in the United States.
“My plan of getting my master’s, my plan of getting my doctorate, now looks very unrealistic,” said Aldo, a senior anthropology major at Chico State who requested that ChicoSol omit his last name.
Aldo is one of nearly 800,000 immigrants who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which grants temporary deportation relief, work permits and Social Security numbers to law-abiding people who were brought to the country illegally as children.
As soon as this week, Trump could make a significant decision on DACA, which was established under the Obama administration five years ago, according to multiple news reports. As a candidate, Trump vowed to eliminate the program early in his presidency. But since moving into the White House, he appeared to soften his stance on DACA and its beneficiaries, also known as “dreamers.”
One major catalyst of a possible decision is a legal challenge.
In late June, 10 Republican state attorneys general threatened to sue Trump’s Justice Department if the administration didn’t rescind DACA by Sept. 5. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the state officials — led by Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas — demanded that the Department of Homeland Security cancel DACA and stop renewing and issuing new permits.
The letter noted how a larger coalition of state officials sued the Obama administration in 2014, and argued that a planned expansion of DACA and the initiation of another executive order violated the U.S. Constitution. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, would have granted temporary deportation relief to undocumented parents of Americans or lawful permanent residents. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices deadlocked 4-4, leaving a lower court’s ruling to block the orders in place.
As Trump’s decision looms, undocumented students brace for tough times ahead.
“It’s going to be a really heart-wrenching day,” Aldo said, referring to next Tuesday. “How are we going to get through the day? I don’t know, but we always find a way.”
Aldo, 26, entered the United States illegally from Mexico as a 1-year-old, he said. Without DACA, he wouldn’t have been able to secure a job to pay for college.
“For a lot of college students, deferred action is actually one of the many reasons why many of us had the opportunity to go to a Cal State,” Aldo said. “I know that many undocumented people prior to deferred action, many of us — because we weren’t able to work humane jobs that even paid a reasonable amount of money — couldn’t save up to afford an education.”
Both Chico State and Butte College provide resources for the hundreds of undocumented students who attend their campuses. Both campuses have student groups that advocate for the rights of dreamers, and the university recently established an on-site “Dream Center,” where students can meet other dreamers and find information on state and federal immigration policies.
Cindy Melendrez-Flores, Butte College’s program coordinator in the Office of Recruitment, Outreach and Orientation, said college staff on Tuesday emailed faculty and students to provide them with resources and information on DACA, as well as to invite them to upcoming events specifically for undocumented students and supportive campus community members.
“With the uncertainty, there’s still conversations happening,” she said, noting the college’s third annual “Undocumented Student Welcome” event on Sept. 6.
Critics of DACA say Obama abused his power to create the program, and it is illegal amnesty for people who violated the law. Still, others say it’s enabled blameless young people to thrive.
“The economic studies on immigration, the participation rate in the workforce studies are all unequivocally saying that DACA is a good thing,” said Andrew Holley, a Chico-based immigration attorney. “It brings people out of the shadows, allows people to incorporate into society. It is a boon to our economy.”
Holley added that forcing 800,000 people back into the shadows would negatively affect the economy, as they would no longer be able buy cars or homes, apply for loans, attend college and file their taxes as now required under the program.
Aldo said he is as worried for himself as he is for fellow undocumented immigrants, and he laments the possibility of postponing his education.
“For many of us growing up, school was our safe haven,” he said. “It was our place to escape injustices. It was a place where we could just go and feel like we belong.”