Documented Fear

There are no plans to dismantle the Dreamers Center at Hartnell even if immigration policies change, President Erica Padilla-Chavez says. Monterey County’s undocumented population fluctuates between 50,000-60,000.

On Nov. 9, the phones did not stop ringing for hours at the Dreamers Center in Hartnell College. Calls poured in from undocumented students fearing deportation. Some called to verify they could continue their studies after Donald Trump, who promised to deport at least 3 million people, was elected president the night before.

One student called in and later showed up trembling, asking counselors if his personal information – including his current home address – would be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He’s an older brother, he told them, and could not bear the thought of leaving his younger siblings alone if he was deported. (The Weekly is not naming undocumented students.)

He is one of the estimated 800 undocumented students attending Hartnell, about 5 percent of the student body. Most of them are currently shielded from deportation under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program gives people who were brought into the country illegally as children temporary social security numbers and work permits. But DACA is an executive order, which means that in January, Trump could gut the program with the stroke of a pen.

“I don’t know what to warn you about because there is so much uncertainty.”

As phones rang and rang, staff at the Dreamers Center, an information hub for undocumented students, tried to quell the fear by hosting an impromptu post-election forum on Nov. 10 at Hartnell. The meeting was meant to answer students’ questions about their rights and how to best prepare their families in case DACA is terminated. About 40 students attended (see story, p. 10), some with their children. The mood was somber. “Should we be concerned?” a student asked.

“I don’t know what to warn you about because there is so much uncertainty right now, but we will try to minimize the disruption to your academic life,” Hartnell Board President Erica Padilla-Chavez said. “I do want you to know that you have a community here that supports you and nothing has changed in this institution, and nothing will change from one day to another.”

Attorney Magnolia Zarraga told students to stay calm and renew their DACA status if they still could, but advised them it could be money wasted – $465 in fees – since it takes about five to six months to process the application. For those eligible who do not have DACA yet, Zarraga warned that it may be safer not to apply, since the Department of Homeland Security would now have a log of their personal information.

Padilla-Chavez said that even if DACA is terminated, students could still attend school but would likely have to pay out-of-state tuition, which is $150 more per unit.

“We need to be proud of who we are, and what we represent,” one student said. “Let’s hold Trump accountable for the unconstitutional things he said. He eats the food that we grow. Let’s be proud and not be scared.”

The room erupted in applause. Shortly after, the students gathered in small circles to share their worries, passing a box of tissues in lieu of a talking stick. For a few more minutes, they reflected on what it would mean to lose everything they worked for. No one cried into the tissues – perhaps a sign they are choosing pride over fear.

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