CSU students threatened by pending Supreme Court DACA decision

Laura Studley

Editor’s note: Sources in this story have requested to remain anonymous for their personal safety.

Colorado State University has made it clear that they stand by individuals who have qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. 

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As DACA faces its U.S. Supreme Court trial, CSU students have voiced concern about their futures. This decision could put a halt on many dreams, according to ethnic studies associate professor Eric Ishiwata. 

“As a land grant institution, Colorado State University is committed to access for all to an excellent education,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell in a University statement sent to The Collegian. “Dreamers deserve to have their opportunity to attend classes and earn their degrees. It is up to the U.S. Congress to find a way forward on this critical matter.” 

There are about 200 DACA students attending CSU at any given time, according to a statistic provided by the University. On Sept. 5, 2017, President Trump announced he was moving to end the DACA program, which would result in these students becoming undocumented individuals. 

“It has been emotionally taxing for these students and their families because since September 2017, they’ve been living in a state of panic,” said Ishiwata. “The futures they had started to build with the passing of DACA, those dreams are put on hold or totally dismantled, and at this point they are numb.”

There’s constantly groups of people discussing my future and there’s nothing I can do about it. … It happens over and over again where they just discuss you, and they don’t really who you are, they don’t really know your circumstances, they don’t really know you besides your status and how long you’ve been here.”  -Laura, DACA recipient

What is DACA and why is the Supreme Court involved? 

DACA is an immigration policy passed under the Obama administration in 2012 that protects approximately 800,000 immigrants from deportation, according to USA Today. This policy does not grant citizenship for recipients, but rather, acts as a work permit with the ability to apply for a social security number.

“It’s providing individuals’ livelihood, that they’re able to work (and) use their college degrees,” said school of education associate professor Susana Muñoz. “We’ve lived (in) a time without DACA, and I remember very vividly that work was definitely challenging. … With DACA, I feel like it does provide individuals with this pathway to livelihood (and) employability.”

Recipients must satisfy these requirements to apply: 

  • Were under 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Lived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday
  • Has lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007
  • Was physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
  • Were in high school, graduated or served in the military
  • Did not have a felony, DUI or three or more misdemeanors of any kind

“It (is) a protective bubble for individuals to prevent any threat of deportation,” wrote immigration lawyer Cristina Steele-Kaplan in an email written to The Collegian. “It (is) a bubble that could be popped at any time.” 

The United States Supreme Court is considering whether the Trump administration can lawfully end DACA. On Nov. 12, the SCOTUS gathered for an oral argument in regards to the DACA case. 

The court is divided, with the dominantly conservative justices agreeing with Trump that DACA should end, regardless of the legality of its termination, according to The New York Times. 

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“There’s constantly groups of people discussing my future, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” said DACA student Laura, who has requested the use of only her first name. “That’s the one thing that triggers fear inside me because it happens over and over again where they just discuss you, and they don’t really know who you are, they don’t really know your circumstances, they don’t really know you besides your status and how long you’ve been here.”

As of now, there has not been an official court decision on the program’s termination.

What is the amicus brief and why was CSU involved with it? 

Over 160 universities signed an amicus brief addressed to the SCOTUS stating, “American institutions of higher education benefit profoundly from the presence of immigrant students on (universities’) campuses.” 

The amicus brief was filed on Oct. 4. This brief is a legal document filed by an organization, group and/or a person who is not a party to the case, but has a strong interest in the subject matter, Steele-Kaplan wrote. 

Universities, including CSU, have been fighting to protect the DACA program for years. On Oct. 19, 2017, a letter was filed addressing Reps. Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, as well as Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, requesting a long-time legislative fix to protect Dreamers. 

It would be easier to deport a former DACA recipient because when they applied for the program, they gave up all of their information. They signed paperwork admitting to being here undocumented. The paperwork has their address on it. It has everything on it to track someone down.”  -Cristina Steele-Kaplan, immigration lawyer

“Children brought to the United States at a young age did not have a choice in the matter and are today Americans in every way but immigration status,” the letter says. “It remains in America’s best interest to enable them to use their knowledge, skills and energy to continue to make the strongest possible contribution to our country.” 

Another letter was sent on Sept. 16, 2019 that addressed Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer and Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The letter encouraged the passage of bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate that would provide permanent protection for Dreamers. 

“If we want something durable, it has to get passed by Congress; immigration reform, immigration legislation has to be passed by Congress,” Ishiwata said.

Repercussions of ending DACA

“The federal government has everyone’s addresses, and they’ve consistently said that they are not exempting anyone from deportation,” said Jose Magaña-Salgado, director of policy and communications for the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.

When DACA ends for an individual, meaning that they no longer have their legal status, they will be at a greater risk for deportation, Magaña-Salgado said. 

Steele-Kaplan wrote if DACA were to end based on the SCOTUS decision, DACA renewals would not be permitted, and individuals would likely keep their DACA status until it expires.

Everyone has equal risk of being deported, Steele-Kaplan wrote. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents treat everyone the same, so it doesn’t matter if you are an undocumented criminal or a DACA student, she wrote.

“It would be easier to deport a former DACA recipient because when they applied for the program, they gave up all of their information,” Steele-Kaplan wrote. “They signed paperwork admitting to being here undocumented. The paperwork has their address on it. It has everything on it to track someone down.”

In the event of DACA ending, students have the ability to become sponsored by a relative who has been granted citizenship in the United States. This serves as a pathway to permanent residency, Ishiwata said. 

“The one way that’s the easiest way to gain legal status is for a relative to claim you as ‘I will sponsor this person while this process is going on,’” Laura said. “That’s one of the ways you can become a legal person in the United States.” 

DACA provides a way to work and help with school expenses. If DACA is repealed, students are not able to work, according to advisor of Dreamers United Camila Ozores Silva.

“I know I relied on my DACA to be able to put myself through undergraduate,” Ozores Silva said. “If it wasn’t for DACA, then I wouldn’t have been able to work in the student leadership opportunities I had. I wouldn’t have been able to help pay for school because we were paying out of pocket.”

Other challenges

Students attending CSU that are a part of the DACA program are not eligible for federal student aid. Additionally, applying for graduate school proves difficult for DACA students due to both the financial burden and lack of support, said Ishiwata and Muñoz. 

“For undocumented students and DACA students who aren’t able to apply for any federal financial aid, graduate school is completely out of pocket,” Muñoz said. “So it would be great for our institution to provide more assistance for students that want to go onto graduate school.” 

Federal financial aid has been geared more toward undergraduate education, where students are also met with encouragement to pursue their goals. However, there aren’t resources and support for undocumented students to pursue these dreams outside of undergraduate education, Ishiwata said.

Financial security would be an issue for many students if DACA were to be rescinded because work would not be a possibility, Ishiwata said. 

“We’re going to have students that maybe have tuition taken care of but are going to be in really desperate situations when it comes to just their day-to-day expenses,” Ishiwata said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but we need to find some sort of financial security for these students so they can attain their educational goals.”

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.