DACA at Illinois Tech

Fri, 2017/09/15

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced that he would begin phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. This decision would result in some 800,000 children brought to the United States illegally being deported should Congress not create a substitute that would allow them to remain. As some Republicans advocate for a full destruction of the program, Democrats and President Trump met earlier this week to discuss a possible substitute that would allow DACA recipients to remain and work in the United States in exchange for upgraded border security, a decision that angered and confused many of President Trump's supporters. Regardless of the decision reached on Capitol Hill in the coming months, one thing is certain: the fate of some of our fellow Scarlet Hawks hangs in the balance.

Undocumented Students and Allies (USA) at Illinois Tech is a campus organization that aims to raise awareness about and create a safe space for undocumented students at the university. TechNews spoke with USA President Hector Lopez Gonzalez about what DACA is and how it affects students at Illinois Tech. The first thing to do if you don’t know what DACA is? “Be more informed,” says Hector. “On social media, a lot of information gets around, but a lot of it is wrong information…People need to know what DACA recipients are and aren’t eligible for.” There’s a widespread misconception that DACA recipients receive significant financial aid for college.  While United States citizens are eligible for federal financial aid, DACA recipients aren’t eligible for state or federal aid, and many private scholarships are unavailable to them. The only thing DACA gives people is a work permit and a Social Security Number. “I worked this whole summer to save money to pay part of my tuition, but I still have to take out a loan,” Hector told me. And because he’s a registered worker, he has to pay taxes. But unlike United States citizens, “Anything we put in for taxes, we don’t receive back…we don’t have Medicaid or anything like that.”

By and large, DACA recipients are given only the barest essentials to be able to work in the United States. To begin with, being eligible for DACA can be a struggle in and of itself. The application for the program costs $495, with extra fees upwards of $1,000 from whichever organization is helping the recipient fill out the application. And, as Hector said, “In order to receive DACA, the requirements are very strict … there are a lot of people who don’t receive it.” Even after receiving initial DACA status, the process must be repeated every two years. But, should DACA not be renewed, everything will expire. For Hector, this means his work permit will expire the semester he’s supposed to graduate. “Many students are going through the same situation … either they graduate this year, or next year, or the year after, they still have to deal with their work permit expiring and not being able to legally work.” Once DACA expires, many students will face deportation. “They came here for safety,” Hector says. “To send them back to a country where they could be harmed is not a good thing.”

Following President Trump’s announcement on DACA, Illinois Tech President Alan W. Cramb released a statement expressing support for Illinois Tech’s undocumented community calling on Congress to codify DACA into law.  After the news of President Trump’s DACA plan broke, Hector recalled talking to fellow undocumented students at a USA meeting. “They were very anxious, afraid. They didn’t know what to do … President Cramb’s letter made it good to know that [Illinois Tech] stands with us.” As the president of USA, Hector has been working directly with the university to see what resources are available to undocumented students. Currently, the Student Health and Wellness Center is working with undocumented students who are experiencing mental illness stemming from anxieties over the DACA news. The Chicago-Kent College of Law has offered its services to undocumented and immigrant students should they need it. So far, says Hector, “many aspects of the school are being very supportive.” Students at Illinois Tech can help undocumented students in a variety of ways. For instance, the United Minds Inspiring Innovation (UMII) Scholarship is a scholarship available to help undocumented students at Illinois Tech pay for college. When paying fees to the university, students have the option to donate $4.50 to the UMII fund. Students can also attend USA meetings and events, which can be found on the USA Facebook page.