Undocumented Students Fear for Their Futures in Trump’s America (OPINION)

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With Donald Trump pledging to build a wall and deport 11 million immigrants, institutions of higher education have been saddled with the question of what their role will be. Colleges and universities across the nation are taking a stand, designating themselves as sanctuary institutions or pledging support for DACA students, as well as other undocumented students.

Letters and petitions by students, faculty and staff have been signed and sent to college and university presidents. More than 450 college and university presidents have signed a nationwide petition supporting DACA.

The president of Pomona has suggested that the term is more symbolic.  According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, administrators at Pomona did not want to overpromise by declaring the college a sanctuary campus. Instead, Pomona has iterated specific guarantees to students while created safe spaces for students.

Many of these students have turned to faculty and administrators for help.

It was 9:30 a.m., the day after the presidential elections, and there was already a swarm of students who had come to see me and other administrators, where I work at a community college 90 miles from the border.  They were asking the same questions. “What’s going to happen to us?  What’s going to happen to our families?”

I had a list of phone calls to return to faculty members who had students bursting into tears in their classrooms. The student services centers were also reporting numerous students desperately asking the same questions.

From one day to the next, students’ lives took a 180-degree turn. Fear and anxiety moved to the forefront, and college campuses across the nation suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory.

Last week, my college sent a message to students, faculty and staff stating that it “reaffirms our commitment to DREAMers and DACA students, just as we reaffirm our vital mission and commitment to open wide our doors to all who seek a higher education.”

Student forums are taking place at the campuses and resources are being compiled. Students have commented that the college’s commitment, the open dialogue and a sense of a safe space has helped somewhat with their fear, in contrast to the frenetic air from almost of month ago.

What would a faculty member do if law enforcement comes into their Psych 101 class to remove students and put them in detention centers to await deportation?

This would severely impact the students who remain in the classroom. Students could begin to associate all immigrants with illegal status, regardless of their own identity or legal status. As a result, students of all ages could also dissociate themselves with their own immigrant heritage.

DACA students have lived the majority of their lives in this country. It’s the only home they know. They don’t have criminal records, which is verified through the DACA application process. Even some senators in Congress know that, as a new BRIDGE Act was introduced on Friday.

These students want to graduate with college degrees so that they can become teachers, nurses, police officers, business leaders, interpreters in the medical and court systems, and give back to their communities in myriad other ways. Some want to serve our country in the military, as well. Yet their futures hang in precarious limbo.

Some colleges are concerned about losing state and federal funding.

In Georgia, a lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to block colleges from receiving state funds if they aren’t complying with state and federal law.  This is in response to Emory University’s efforts in deciding whether to declare the school a sanctuary campus. Also, Texas’ governor said on Twitter that he would cut funding to campuses who declare themselves sanctuaries.

DACA students in Arizona, especially, have reason to know how well-founded these concerns are.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a member of Trump’s transition team, was the architect of one of the toughest immigration laws in the country, Arizona’s SB-1070, which was passed in 2010.

The law quickly became a lightning rod in the national immigration debate, and has been denounced by many for the way they say it encourages racial profiling.  When I was a faculty member and the law went into effect, a few of my students were immediately deported, while others dropped their classes out of general fear.

Some say mass deportation will never happen. History tells us differently  In the 1930’s, about two million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were expelled from cities across the country or deported to Mexico without any formal hearings.  It is estimated that more than half of these people were U.S. citizens, born in the United States.

It happened again in 1954, when about a million Mexicans were sent back to Mexico during what was called Operation Wetback. This operation was not simply the enforcement of immigration laws, but a campaign of fear against immigrants.

We will not strengthen our economy by launching a massive deportation. It will not preserve jobs for American workers.

According to a UCLA study, Dreamers youth could generate $1.4 trillion in income over the next 40 years. The study also says that if 2.1 million undocumented immigrants became legalized, they would earn $3.6 trillion in income, the great majority of which would be contributed to the national economy over the same period.

The mission of colleges and universities is to provide access to education in an inclusive and diverse environment. The DACA students or DREAMers deserve our support.

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Dolores Durán-Cerda, Ph.D., is the Acting Provost of Pima Community College and is a Tucson Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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