Uncertainty looms for DACA students


“Demonstrators dressed like monarch butterflies hold a vigil outside the Capitol on Jan. 21, the second day of the government shutdown. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the event.” (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

With the March 5th DACA deadline looming, DePaul students and faculty hoping for the best but gearing up for the worst.

Most DACA students, often called “Dreamers,” are used to uncertainty.  But in the wake of a government shutdown that lasted nearly three days, things are starting to feel especially fragile.

Larissa Aranda is an undocumented student at DePaul. She felt that it is important for her to speak out and give a voice to those that may feel like they aren’t being heard.

“It was very surprising that it happened,” she said in reference to the shutdown.

Aranda said that she, and many other undocumented students, feel exploited by politicians.

“It’s not fair to use us as a bargaining chip,” she said.

Aranda said that throughout the shutdown it felt like politicians in Washington didn’t really care about what happened to undocumented immigrants.  She said that it seemed disingenuous.

“We are human beings, and it isn’t right,” she said.

The DePaul community has not been shy to respond when it comes to undocumented students. In September 2017, DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban wrote an open letter to all faculty, students and staff at DePaul outlining a plan of support for undocumented students.

“DePaul has always welcomed students regardless of their citizenship status,” he said in the open letter. “We will maintain an unwavering commitment to undocumented students who choose this university for their education.”

Last week, Esteban said that the university is taking steps to prepare for the pending March deadline.

“A university-wide group is being brought together to discuss and plan for all possible scenarios associated with the pending DACA legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday.

The Trump administration has been anything but consistent. Over the last week there have been tweets and comments surrounding possible legislation that have been difficult to decipher.

Patricia Santoyo-Marin is DePaul’s official liaison to undocumented students. It is her job to connect students to the appropriate resources available to them inside and outside the university.    

“I am an unafraid educator supporting undocumented students,” she said.

Santoyo-Marin said that DACA students face challenges that many take for granted. Navigating simple things like signing a lease or getting a driver’s license can become a nightmare for undocumented students.

Although DACA students are temporarily documented, often their families are not.

“DACA students sometimes have to check in with their family members daily,” she said. “They aren’t always sure that their parents will be coming home that evening.”

Santoyo-Marin said that her office does not keep official records of their undocumented students. She said that it is important for undocumented students to know that her office is a place of safety.

“They are not alone,” she said. “We have many people who are in support of their success in and out of the classroom.”

The DePaul student body has been largely supportive of undocumented students. In 2017, in partnership with the Student Government Association and Undocumented Vincentians and Allies (UVA), an initiative was created to enact a scholarship for undocumented students that are FAFSA-ineligible.

The Monarch Butterfly Scholarship comes from a $2 increase in student tuition. The referendum passed with nearly 85 percent of students voting in support of the tuition increase to create the undocumented student scholarship.

Yessenia Mejia, a graduate student at DePaul, is one of the student allies for undocumented students. She works directly beneath Santoyo-Marin in the Office of Multicultural Student Success (OMSS).

Mejia is not undocumented herself, but she said she is passionate about advocating for undocumented students. She has taken it upon herself to reach out to multiple agencies on and off campus to find resources for undocumented students. She said that sometimes she is the first level of contact an undocumented student has with the university.

“I’m seeing five times the amount of students I saw last year,” she said. Mejia said part of the increase in students seeking help may have to do with word of mouth campaigns to spread awareness throughout campus.

Mejia said that her offices are looking at other institutional models when it comes to dealing with undocumented students. She mentioned California as a state that has been very progressive with its handling of undocumented students.

“We aren’t lawyers, so we have to work closely with the legal department and follow their advice.”

— Yessenia Mejia

Mejia said that there is an increased level of panic among many DACA students, namely when it comes to employment and post-secondary education.

Mejia said that she urges any student that has fears about their immigration status to come and talk to her. She said the best way to reach out to her is in person or in an email.

“All they have to do is send me an email asking for a one-on-one,” she said. Mejia stressed that students do not need to disclose personal information in order to talk with her.

Ultimately, Mejia wants students to know that they don’t have to be afraid. She said she continues to be in awe of DePaul’s undocumented students.

“Their grit in continuing their education and their drive to succeed academically is really impressive,” she said.

Aranda stressed that it isn’t just DACA students that are affected by the March 5th deadline. She said that no matter what happens, it will affect all undocumented immigrants and their families. Aranda believes that if legislation is not passed, then it will send a message from the White House that immigrants are not welcome.

Although it has been stressful for Aranda and her friends, she said that many undocumented immigrants have become numb to a life of unpredictability.

“We have been on a rollercoaster,” she said. “Everything affects us, but we are ready for the worst.”

Aranda realizes that sharing her story comes with risks. She said that she finds courage in her family and friends. She also said that the university’s open support last September allowed undocumented students like herself to feel more comfortable going public.

“Sometimes you have to come out of the shadows to actually make a change,” she said. “I know how hard it is to live in the shadows, and I want to share my leadership and positivity.”

Aranda had one more message to share.

“I want my family to see this and know they are going to be OK,” she said.