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Undocumented and Unsure: Under Trump Presidency, Undocumented Students at Loyola Face Uncertain Future

Chris Hacker | The PHOENIX

“I consider myself to be a citizen; I was five years old when I came here. This country is my home, but now it feels like everything could change,” an undocumented Loyola student said. She requested her identity be concealed because of her immigration status.

She is one of about 150 undocumented students at Loyola, according to the office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA). They are allowed to live in the United States legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Those students are now facing the possibility that their legal right to remain in the country could be challenged by the new president, Donald J. Trump.

Started by former president Barack Obama in 2012, DACA grants residence to more than 750,000 people who immigrated illegally before age 16. In Illinois, some DACA recipients can receive permanent residence through the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, as long as they either attend a full-time university or serve in the military for at least two years.

“For people like me who came to this country before they could make that decision for themselves, DACA gave us a chance at a good life,” said one undocumented Loyola student and DREAM Act beneficiary who asked to be identified only by his nickname, “Vince,” due to his immigration status. “One of the hardest things for me is the uncertainty we have — [Trump] is never specific enough to know what he really means.”

Trump’s position on deferred action has shifted several times since he first announced his plans to deport all 11 million undocumented people in the United States. His latest plan is to deport three million undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

As for the other eight million? The Trump administration will “take care of” undocumented immigrants who “have done a good job,” and those people “should be far less worried” than those who are not DACA eligible, Trump said in an interview with ABC news.

One fear of many DACA permit holders is that some of their family members could be deported, according to Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, an anthropology professor at Loyola who works with undocumented people.

“Most undocumented people in the United States have U.S. citizen family members, and there are some 4 to 5 million U.S. citizen children whose parents are undocumented,” Gomberg-Muñoz said. “People are afraid of losing their families, of not being able to provide for their families and of prolonged detention center stays or jail times.”

In response to the Trump Administration, leaders of 39 cities around the United States, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have declared their support for undocumented immigrants, pledging not to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. The White House promised to retaliate by cutting federal funding to these so-called “sanctuary cities,” and publishing the names of all undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

Gomberg-Munoz said these measures would be intended to make the lives of undocumented immigrants more difficult.

“When you start talking about something like a registry, the real effect is to sow terror and fear and hatred. I think the real effect is going to be to foment more xenophobia, more hate crimes, more division,” she said.

At Loyola, the office of SDMA connects undocumented students with counseling, financial aid and other resources, and trains faculty on how to address the barriers, such as finding financial aid and healthcare, that undocumented students face. In 2014, the Student Government of Loyola Chicago voted to dedicate a $2.50 fee per student to create the Magis Scholarship Fund, which provides full scholarships to five undocumented students per year.

“We find that when [undocumented] students are able to come out of the shadows, they find a sense of security and relief,” said Joe Saucedo, the director of SDMA. “There’s a lot we don’t know, but we do have things like the Magis scholarship, which the administration is committed to continuing, and will fully fund those students who receive the scholarship.”

On Jan. 30, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney published a letter titled “Our Commitment to Diversity,” pledging to support all immigrants, “regardless of faith tradition, national origin or immigration status.” The letter did not declare Loyola a “sanctuary campus,” which, like sanctuary cities, would promise that Loyola University Chicago would not comply with any federal deportation efforts.

Some universities around the country have declared themselves sanctuaries, promising to prevent faculty from aiding any deportation efforts and providing legal assistance to undocumented students.

Saucedo said the decision to not immediately declare Loyola a sanctuary campus was a difficult one for the administration, but that the debate is still ongoing.

“We don’t know the full ramifications of [being a sanctuary campus]. If we as an institution were to move forward and declare ourselves a sanctuary … there could be risk of us losing the federal funds we receive,” Saucedo said.

Vince said he appreciated Rooney’s solidarity, but wants to see the administration give “more direct actions.”

“I was really looking forward to seeing how the university would react, and it was kind of comforting to know that the president of the university stands with the immigrant community, but I would have liked to see more of an actual plan,” Vince said. “It’s one thing to say you support a group, but it’s another to actually show a specific set of things you’re going to do.”

Another undocumented Loyola student, who also wished to remain anonymous due to her immigration status, said she appreciated Rooney’s message, but didn’t feel the school had to risk losing its federal funding to help undocumented students.

“[Being a sanctuary campus] would make Loyola feel a lot safer, but there’s only so much the school can do. Even if they were to remove DACA completely, how much can Loyola really do to keep us here if the government is going to try to send us away?” the female student said. “It’s really scary to think that all the hard work I put in in high school and all the work I’m putting in now could be for nothing.”

As the Trump Administration continues into its third week in the White House, some of Loyola’s undocumented students are anxious to hear what the official plan will be.

“At this point, there is nothing we can do but wait,” said an undocumented Loyola student who requested his identity be kept hidden at the advice of an immigration lawyer.

The student said people who are citizens need to see undocumented people as individuals, and wished people would be more understanding of their undocumented neighbors.

“People just see 11 million undocumented people. They don’t realize that we’re not all Latino, we all come for different reasons,” said the student. “If we were seen more as human beings and people considered the reasons why we’re here, maybe people could see the struggles we face and not just that we’re here to take jobs from Americans. It’s not like that. We’re all looking for a better life.”

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