Editor's Note: This story was published before the Oct. 5 deadline for DACA renewal for individuals already in the program. However, Student Legal Services is still available to students with questions about immigration and other issues relating to DACA.
Change in federal policy leaves students uncertain of future, looking for answers at university level
Immigrant, Student, DREAMer
Priscila Narcio remembers asking her mother, “Where’s my dad? Where’s my dad?” She remembers eating dinner every night, a picture of him permanently pressed between the glass surface of the kitchen table. She remembers her mother working long hours as a teacher and not being around during the day.
Then, Narcio remembers being in Portland. Her father was there, but she did not recognize him—nor did she recognize anything in her new life. That was 17 years ago. Narcio and her family had left their home in Sinaloa, Mexico and crossed the border into the U.S. to reconnect with her father in pursuit of a better life, a better future for Narcio and her sister.
A young child at the time, Narcio didn’t understand the larger implications of what her family had done, and the concept of living in the country illegally was not something she fully comprehend until much later in her life.
“I was so young. We moved and I remember seeing my dad and I was like, ‘Who are you? Where are we?’ I didn’t know—I was so little. I just knew we were moving,” Narcio said.
Now, Narcio is one of the 800,000 individuals to have received DACA status in the U.S. who are uncertain as to what their future with the program looks like.
Prompted by the want to legally reside in the country and open herself to opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to her—a job, a license, peace of mind—Narcio made the decision to submit all her information to the Department of Homeland Security in the hopes of receiving DACA status. Though Narcio and her family knew that by doing this they were at a larger risk of being deported, the benefits outweighed the potential dangers.
At the time, Narcio wanted to be a social worker, so applying for DACA made sense to her.
“I wanted to help kids like me and go to school and do different things. Then the harsh reality was I was undocumented—completely,” Narcio said. “This was before DACA. It was very emotional.”
Narcio spent most of her life in Salem, Ore. By second grade she had learned to speak English after picking it up through immersion in the classroom. By the time she moved on to high school, Narcio was fluent in the language. Her friends were English-speaking American citizens. She grew up with American culture. Then, and to this day, Narcio considers herself to be an American.
“You know the language. You know the customs. You know your friends there. Everything is similar to you,” Narcio said. Despite all of this, the fact remained she was not legally considered a U.S. citizen.
Because of her status, Narcio would make excuses to her friends for the reasons she never held a job and did not have a driver’s license. She and her family lived in the shadows, wary of disclosing their status. Narcio’s parents would instruct her to not tell her friends about their background.
When it came time to think about life after high school, Narcio struggled with what her path would be. She worried her lack of documentation would hold her back.
“Over time, I guess I was very not hopeful of the future just because you’re told you can do all these great things by your teachers, by your educators, by your counselors—but your status is what holds you back,” Narcio said. “It was depressing. It was depressing knowing you couldn’t do these things like everybody else.”
It was in her senior year that DACA came into existence. After being accepted into the program, Narcio felt hope for the first time that a college education was obtainable. She enrolled at Chemeketa Community College, and from there her future took on a new look.
“Chemeketa gave me a great place to begin. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Chemeketa because they laid out this strong platform for me to transition into a university,” Narcio said. “It gave me confidence to do things that helped me out with finding what I liked and what I didn’t like.”
Founding the DACA and Allies United Club at Chemeketa, Narcio used her two years at the community college to not only find support for herself, but also for those around her. By the time she graduated with her associate’s degree, she knew her next step was a four-year university.
Ineligible for federal financial aid however, Narcio was unsure of how she would be able to afford tuition. Looking for resources, she took the year after Chemeketa off in order to work two jobs and save money.
Now, Narcio is an OSU student. Her dream of attending a four-year university is being realized—but a recent change in the DACA program has made the future less clear.
A CHANGE IN FEDERAL POLICY
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, President Donald Trump and the U.S. Justice Department announced that the DACA program would be terminated in a six-month time period. The administration then said that Congress would be responsible for finding a permanent long-term solution.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s webpage, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as DACA, allows certain individuals who came to the United States as children to request deferred action against them for a two year period, contingent on them meeting a list of qualifications. Established through an executive order from President Barack Obama, the program came into existence in June of 2012.
Through DACA, individuals are able to legally work, obtain a driver’s license, a social security number and pay taxes.
President Trump said his decision to drop the program came from a concern for the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system. As of Sept. 30, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website claims that the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s actions with DACA has been widely questioned, specifically considering the fact that Congress had failed to pass legislation of similar nature at the time.
For recipients whose DACA and work authorization expire between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services will continue to accept renewal requests through Oct. 5, 2017. These requests must be filed and physically received by the agency at the proper filing location no later than Oct. 5. For individuals whose authorization expires beyond March 5 of 2018 or those who have not yet received their initial authorization, are not eligible to request a renewal. The renewal fee is $495.
Qualifications for individuals to be considered for DACA are:
-Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
-Came to the United States before their 16th birthday
-Have continuously lived in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time
-Where physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for deferred action to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations department (part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
-Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
-Are currently in high school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
-Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
The detailed list of qualifications can be found on the DACA website under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
THE UNIVERSITY RESPONDS TO THE CHANGE IN POLICY
In a letter to the university community, OSU President Ed Ray announced the university’s continued support for not only students with DACA, but also undocumented students and students from mixed-immigration status families. The letter, sent on Sept. 5, encouraged the community to take on a more active role with this issue.
“As members of the Oregon State community, I ask you to get involved in this matter,” Ray said in the letter. “Acting with understanding and compassion is one way.”
Ray also noted that the university is in support of a permanent solution that would allow individuals with DACA status to be able to remain in the country legally.
“We strongly support bi-partisan efforts by members of Congress to find a solution that will ensure that these young people are able to remain in the U.S. and contribute to society by attending college, working and paying taxes, improving their communities, and serving in the military,” Ray said in the letter.
Ray encouraged students affected by the announcement to reach out to the Educational Opportunities Program at OSU for further guidance and support.
Last November, Ray declared OSU as a sanctuary campus, and affirmed the community that the university would put students at the forefront of their policy and decision making. Among the commitments included:
-OSU does not and will not enforce federal immigration laws
-The university will not facilitate federal immigration enforcement activities—nor will it honor federal immigration requests—unless required by warrant, court order or emergency health and safety concerns. If OSU is ever so ordered, the university’s General Counsel will review any such order to confirm its validity and ability to be enforced
-Oregon State University will vehemently oppose any federal effort to create a registry based on protected characteristics, such as national origin, religion, sexual orientation, race, or identities
-The university will only release student confidential information to federal agencies as required by law
Ray and the university have remained adamant that OSU will continue to be a sanctuary campus. According to multiple sources at the university, including the Educational Opportunities Program, OSU does not ask students about their immigration status and the exact number of students with DACA status is unknown.
RESOURCES AT OSU
In his letter to the university community, Ray instructed those impacted by the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA to contact the EOP at OSU. Janet Nishihara, the director of the EOP, is listed as the main contact for students looking for further guidance on university resources available to students.
Although Nishihara said the EOP cannot ensure confidentiality, they are a staff that has been fairly educated on matters related to DACA and immigration, according to Nishihara.
“We have had some students contact us, but there are probably more that haven’t,” Nishihara said.
She says the EOP can help answer and find solutions to university related questions such as admission requirements and tuition, but will refer external issues to the ASOSU Legal Services office, according to Nishihara.
Access to legal services through the Associated Students of OSU’s office is provided free of charge to students who pay student fees. Covering issues from landlord/tenant problems, to traffic infractions, to criminal charges and even wills, the ASOSU Student Legal Services office can also refer students to immigration attorneys for help.
Marc Friedman is the executive director of Access the Law, and works on the Corvallis campus. According to Friedman, the change in presidential administrations, his office had to increase the number of hours they provide students access to an immigration attorney.
“We are seeing right now an increase in need for questions in regard to DACA,” Friedman said.
As of this fall, the office is bringing in a local Corvallis attorney, Yema Measho, on Friday mornings to assist students.
Nishihara says that although students can correspond with her office through email or over the phone, she prefers to meet with students in person.
“Usually we try to get students to come in. It is so much easier to talk in person, and I think they feel better talking to a person right there so as things come up they can ask questions,” Nishihara said. “Like I said, we learn so much from them about the process they go through, the terminology they deal with.”
In relation to student safety, and more specifically the safety of students in the DACA program, Nishihara said the discussions are ongoing among the university administration and existing groups. Nishihara and other groups on campus have worked over the last several years to self-educate themselves on various related issues.
“It’s tricky because we are a sanctuary campus, and nobody’s exactly sure what that means,” Nishihara said. “It doesn’t mean we can lock the police out.”
Navigating the sanctuary designation means that while OSU can’t violate federal law or authority, there are steps being taken to proactively protect students and prevent adverse action being taken against them.
“In terms of safety for students at OSU, we don’t pull their names. It would be so much simpler in some ways if we had a listserv and sent out information that way, but then we would have a listserv,” Nishihara said. “So if someone came in and said, ‘give us a list of all your students,’ right now we could say we don’t have a list of all the DACA students. No such list exists anywhere on campus.”
Beyond safety, according to Nishihara another concern for students facing issues around immigration and DACA is mental health.
Narcio noted that during her time at Chemeketa Community College with the DACA club there, a common topic of discussion was the mental health of those students with DACA status.
“It was so sad that one of our first meetings actually, we talked about each others’ stories and the common thread there was suicide and depression, and just the mental health of immigrants is something that doesn’t get talked about,” Narcio said.
For students who call into the EOP with concerns about their mental health, Nishihara said advisors are trained to assist, but will also redirect the students to Counseling and Psychological Services. Student interactions with CAPS are much more confidential than the interactions with the EOP, Nishihara added.
Nishihara is hopeful for students currently dealing with the transition of the DACA program. She holds these students to a high regard, and believes that they deserve an education.
“The students I’ve talked with (that have DACA status) are some of the most hard-working, thoughtful, generous people I have ever met,” Nishihara said. She recalled one student who offered to give up their extra income to help assist other students with DACA renewal fees. “These are people we need to make sure get a college education and are able to contribute back to America.
Nishihara hopes that the community can be receptive and welcoming to students both with and without DACA status.
“Everyone that I have met has been great, has been a hard-working student here just like everyone wanting to get an education, learn about their major and I think they deserve the opportunity to do that,” Nishihara said.
Overall, Nishihara noted that not only the issues around DACA, but many of the issues facing the country now are more complex and nuanced than people may at first believe.
“We see the world as you’re either an American or you’re not, you’re either an international student or you’re not, but it’s these sort of in-between areas that tell us how we need to be more human about some of these processes,” Nishihara said.
Both Nishihara and Freidman are unsure how the university’s sanctuary campus designation may play into future action from the federal government.
The best way to contact the EOP and ASOSU Student Legal Services is through email or by calling the office. Drop-ins are welcome as well. The EOP office is located on the third floor of Waldo Hall on the OSU campus.
REEVALUATING THE DREAM
Going forward from here, both Narcio and other students and organizations are looking to further conversations around immigration and legislation, as well as provide students and community members with a platform for structured discussion and support.
After founding the DACA club at Chemeketa Community College, Narcio is now in the works of starting a similar club at OSU. In addition to this, Narcio has become involved with the Oregon DACA Coalition, an organization based out of Salem that focuses on advocacy for individuals related to the program.
On campus, Memorial Union President Angel Mandujano-Guevera felt that there were not enough resources that directly catered to students looking for support on immigration related issues and decided to start a group as well.
“In my priority with this program, it was for undocumented students. It wasn’t primarily on DACA,” Mandujano-Guevera said. “You have to remember that when it comes to undocumented and DACA students, they’re two different groups.”
More than anything, Mandujano-Guevera wants to centralize all resources available to students and make them as accessible as possible.
Luis Cisneros, a coordinator with the Oregon DACA Coalition, says the organization is getting set to do a phone bank campaign to further educate the public on immigration issues.
The group is trying to reach out not only to conservative leaders and representatives, but also conservative voters in an effort to educate more than change minds. Cisneros and those with the coalition said they will also be focusing on lobbying Representative Greg Walden. The only conservative representative from Oregon, the group’s efforts are focused on pushing Walden toward supporting a clean DREAM act.
Both in and out of the classroom, Narcio is active in lobbying for undocumented citizens’ rights. With the future of the DREAMers now in Congress’ hands, Narcio and the Oregon DACA Coalition are proponents of a clean DREAM act—legislation that will not provide funding for a border wall, drone surveillance on the border or increased internal detainment in the U.S.
Though Cisneros is a U.S. citizen and not a DACA recipient himself, he said his parents came to the country the same way as most DACA recipients’ parents did. His mother was eight months pregnant when she came to the United States, and if she had waited until after Cisneros was born to come to the U.S., he would be an undocumented immigrant.
“It is very arbitrary in the ways the laws they are set up, but the effects on people’s lives are detrimental,” Cisneros said. “For anyone, it is very important to jump in on this.”
Those looking to get involved with the Oregon Daca Coalition can reach out through email at email@example.com or through their Facebook page.
‘UNDOCUMENTED AND UNAFRAID’
After reading about Narcio’s story in an issue of the Baro last January (Un-DACA-Mented), Corvallis community member Diane Farrell decided she wanted to help Narcio with her goal of attending OSU. After Farrell connected with Narcio, the two came to an agreement—Farrell would pay for Narcio’s tuition for the next two years as she works toward her degree as well as provide Narcio with a place to live in Corvallis during the school year.
“If she has the aspiration and the dedication, then she should not suffer from a want of the means to pay for it,” Farrell said, referring to Narcio.
Now at OSU, Narcio is living the future she envisioned but never knew was possible. She sat in the front row of class her first day of school at OSU, attentive and eager to begin her studies. One of the first topics of discussion for the course was about the effect the DACA program’s termination would have on children.
Facing an uncertain future, Narcio remains hopeful. After feeling lost and without the ability to realize her dreams during points in her life before DACA, she sees the work that is being done by the various organizations and groups both in the community and around the state, and feels a positive outcome is realistic.
“Now people are identifying themselves as, ‘I’m undocumented and unafraid.’ That’s been such a big change from the very beginning,” Narcio said. “I’m so hopeful because we have been doing a lot of work.”
Nishihara shares a similar sense of optimism for the future of these students.
“I’m hopeful. A lot of the stuff I have been seeing has been more positive than it has been in the past,” Nishihara said. “For people to come out and be public about their status, that takes a lot of guts.”
For Farrell, the decision to assist Narcio in her education came from a compassion toward immigrants and students. Over the next two years, Farrell will have a front row seat to Narcio’s work both as a student and an activist.
“I’m just eagerly watching the unfolding of Priscila’s career,” Farrell said. “And I have a fine cat sitter in the bargain.”
As Congress continues to take on the task of passing legislation on immigration and DACA, Narcio will continue to go to class, go to work, stay involved and active in the community and spend time with her family—her unclear future notwithstanding.