Conflicting reports about if and when President Donald Trump will end a program that allows undocumented students to remain in the country while attending school has many Sacramento State students nervous. Staff members and faculty are worried, too.
“I think the best way that I can express it is that we have been anticipating a storm and how strong is that storm going to be, we don’t know,” said Norma Mendoza, program coordinator with the university’s Dreamer Resource Center, established two years ago to address the needs of undocumented students.
To proactively deal with the situation, California State University, Sacramento, hosted a meeting Monday with students, an immigration lawyer and Dreamer Resource Center staff to discuss concerns in the wake of Trump’s inauguration Friday.
Viridiana Diaz, the assistant vice president of strategic diversity initiatives, said the university was caught off guard the day after the presidential election when large numbers of undocumented students showed up with concerns. The university has been holding regular sessions like Monday’s for undocumented students since November.
It’s unclear how many undocumented students are attending Sacramento State, or how many are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The campus does not track that information.
Former President Barack Obama created the DACA program in 2012. It allows immigrants who came to the country as minors to apply for protection from deportation and provides them with a work permit that must be renewed every two years.
Monday’s meeting became even more relevant after reports over the weekend that President Trump would eliminate the DACA program this week. But by Monday morning Trump administration officials indicated that they would focus first on criminal immigrants in the country illegally.
There also has been discussion about DACA being replaced with the Bridge Act, which would be approved by Congress and would offer additional protections until the U.S. government comes up with a new immigration reform, Diaz said.
“We continue to be in this face of uncertainty,” she said. “We don’t know anything for a fact at this point.”
The uncertainty leaves some students with a hard decision: Renew their DACA documents, which cost $495, and update contact information that could lead immigration officials to their doors, or fail to renew and lose their protected status if the program remains or is replaced, said Marcus Tang, an attorney from the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.
“It’s your decision,” Tang said, offering no advice on the issue.
At Monday’s event in the University Union, Tang discussed immigration law and handed out red cards that offered information about the constitutional right to remain silent and to ask for a search warrant if students come into contact with law enforcement officers.
Only 10 students attended the event, held on the first day of school when students are often struggling to fill class schedules. Those who came seemed grateful for the support.
“Having this kind of conversation helps you know there are people who care and people who will fight for you,” said Polet Hernandez, a student from Stanislaus State who traveled to Sacramento State with faculty from the university to gather information about opening a Dreamer Resource Center at their university.
The audience of about 50 was primarily staff and faculty who came to learn how they could support the students.
“How do I communicate to students that my office is a safe place?” asked Heather Diaz, an associate professor of community health.
Staff members told her about ally training, meant to train staff and faculty to help undocumented students. Trainees can post decals indicating ally status on their office windows and doors.
Professor Patrick Ettinger has already taken the ally training from the resource center.
“In general, I want to be useful to all of the students here,” he said Monday. “I’ve had a number of students come to my office and say they don’t know what is going on.”
He said three students have come in because of the decal and asked him questions. He said most are worried about the status of relatives.
Ettinger said that while there is no good estimate for the number of undocumented students at the school, he has heard as many as one in 30 could lack legal status.
“I’m very grateful to be at a university where, from the president down, they are giving resources to this issue,” he said.