Many of Loyola’s undocumented students are breathing a sigh of relief after the Donald J. Trump administration decided to allow them to remain in the country for the time being, but they are still unsure of their long-term future.
The more than 150 undocumented students at Loyola are allowed to live in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), which protects almost one million undocumented children who came to the country before age 16, as long as they attend school or serve in the military and stay out of trouble with the law. Deferred action is not the same as legal status, but allows recipients to live and work in the United States without being deported.
DACA recipients are also referred to as Dreamers after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which offered legal status to qualifying undocumented children but never passed after being introduced in Congress in 2001.
After months of uncertainty, and a promise during the 2016 presidential campaign to overturn DACA if elected, Trump announced June 15 that DACA would remain in effect. Some undocumented students see the announcement as a victory.
“I’m more hopeful than anything,” said Vince, an undocumented Loyola student who asked to only be identified by his first name. “Things aren’t looking as badly for Dreamers as I expected. Policy-wise there are a lot of bad things that have happened, but I guess my main priority is my own safety and I feel like it hasn’t been compromised too badly.”
In a June 15 memorandum released online, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John F. Kelly announced the department would allow DACA to continue, but would cancel the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents Act (DAPA). This policy would have protected the parents of DACA recipients from deportation, but was blocked by the courts before it took effect.
That means while children protected by DACA are able to live and work in the United States, their parents still have to conceal their immigration status or risk deportation.
“I think the uncertainty still remains and will always remain until there’s a final decision on what’s going to happen to us,” said a female undocumented student who requested her identity be kept anonymous because of her immigration status. “Right now we are protected from deportation and we have social security [and] we can work, but we really aren’t sure when those might be taken away.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to overturn DACA and DAPA, saying they defied federal law and the Constitution. He softened his tone after his inauguration, saying he would protect undocumented people who have “done a good job.” But the Department of Homeland Security said on June 17 that the fate of DACA is far from settled.
The DHS office office of media relations did not respond to The PHOENIX’s request for comment, but DHS assistant secretary for public affairs Jonathan Hoffman told the New York Times, “There has been no final determination made about the DACA program, which the president has stressed needs to be handled with compassion and with heart.”
Despite assurances their own protections will not be revoked, some of Loyola’s undocumented students fear their parents could still be targeted now that DAPA is officially out of the question.
“My parents have always had those conversations, like if my dad were to be deported [or] if my mom were to get deported, what would we do?” the same female student said. “My parents always said, ‘If we get sent back you guys are not going to go. You guys have an education here, we’re not going to force you to go to Mexico,’ but living here without your parents is a really scary thought.”
Former President Barack Obama’s DHS secretary Janet Napolitano announced DAPA in late 2014, almost two years after DACA took effect. DAPA was not an executive order or a law passed by congress, but a policy directing DHS not to pursue cases of deportation for the parents of qualifying DACA recipients. Two months after its enactment, 26 states sued the federal government in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, which issued an injunction blocking the program from enactment. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which split 4-4 on the case, leaving the initial decision in place.
If enacted, initial estimates by the Migration Policy Institute showed it could have covered as many as four million people.
Alex, an undocumented student at Loyola, is a child whose parents would have qualified for DAPA protections. His family emigrated from a small town in Mexico when he was only 4 years old, and he has lived in the United States since.
“In my family’s house in Mexico, we didn’t have a floor. My family couldn’t afford diapers so we used old T-shirts,” Alex said. “It was an extremely poor little town in Mexico, so they came here to give me what I have now: a chance at an education, being able to move up in socioeconomic status.”
Alex said he no longer fears for his own safety now that his deferred status will remain intact, but he still worries for those like his parents who aren’t protected from deportation.
“I feel safer on a personal level, but I still feel scared for family members who aren’t protected by it,” Alex said. “It’s sad because it would have been a huge deal for my family and for families like mine, but we already knew it would happen.
Loyola is not a sanctuary campus, which would direct faculty and staff not to comply with any federal deportation effort, but President Jo Ann Rooney signed a statement of support Nov. 30 issued by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) affirming Loyola’s commitment to its undocumented students.
In 2014, students voted to set aside $2.50 per student to create the Magis Scholarship Fund, which provides full tuition to five undocumented students per year. Loyola’s Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
A recipient of the Magis scholarship, the female undocumented student said it has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But she said she is still unsure if her immigration status will prevent her from reaching that goal.
“Where is the limit of how far I can take [DACA]?” the female student said. “Once I graduate and become a doctor, what if I can’t get a job or can’t get my license as a doctor? The assurance will come when I can get my citizenship and actually live comfortably in the country I grew up in, even though I wasn’t born here.”