North State Schools Address Grave Uncertainties For Their DACA Students

Sep 8, 2017

With the recent decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals within sixth months, North State schools are struggling to find ways to support their students.

Chico State, for example, does not ask students for their immigration status. There’s no box on your application that you would check, so it’s hard to know how many students on campus will be directly impacted by the decision. Elizabeth Alaniz is the associate director of financial aid at Chico State.

“We have no idea how many students have DACA on this campus, that’s a question that’s not asked on any forms or documents,” she said.

Alaniz does estimate, however, that about 300 of their students are undocumented. Recently, she stepped up to coordinate a new program on campus. It’s called the Dream Center and it is designed specifically to help students on DACA succeed at Chico State. The center can help students access a number of resources, from scholarships to legal services.

When the Trump administration announced that they were ending the program on Tuesday, Alaniz says the center was swamped with students who were panicked about whether or not they could continue to attend school. This is what she told them: You can still come to school nothing is going to happen to enrollment, again that’s state legislation, nothing is going to happen to the assembly bills and senate bills.”

Credit Adia White

Alaniz is referring to several California assembly bills that allow undocumented students from California to apply for financial aid and be eligible for in-state tuition. Those programs are not at risk of ending, but Alaniz says that’s only a small relief for students enrolled in DACA who still need to work to pay for living expenses, books, and sometimes support their family members too. Not to mention, the fear that they could be deported if they lose their permits.

Karla Camacho is a sophomore at Chico State and a dreamer. She remembers the day she was first granted a DACA permit and realized that she would actually be able to put herself through college. She said, “I’d always thought that I was going to go to college. I had never really had it highlighted to me that I was undocumented, but the closer I got to eighteen the more it started to become less feasible until DACA was put into place. I remember that when I was finally granted a permit it was a moment of relief, there was suddenly some stability that could help me.”

Camacho moved to the Napa valley area from Mexico when she was seven. She says she doesn’t remember Mexico or the trip to the U.S. at all. She can’t imagine what it would be like to go back there. Right now, she’s doing her best to concentrate on what she can control, her school work. She says, “I’m trying my best not to let it affect my school work, but of course there’s the concern, there’s the worry. But at the end of the day, if I stop doing what I’m here to do, it’s only going to set me back further. I’m really trying to focus on my studies, so that at least while i’m here, I’m doing well in school and I’m trying my hardest.”

We also reached out to administrators at a number of high schools here in the North State, to see if any are implementing policies to assist Dreamers as they make plans for post graduation. We weren’t able to reach any, but we were able to get a hold of the district superintendent of Glenn County, Tracey Quarne. We asked him, what policies, if any, the district plans on implementing to help DACA students during this time. This is what he told us, “I think we have a very healthy approach to educating DACA and all students. We educate every child that walks through our door, every child. Regardless of whatever their status may or may not be. We are here to educate students period, we don’t engage ourselves in other elements that isn’t our decision to make.”

We also spoke with a number of high school counselors who said they don’t have many DACA students in general, though it’s impossible to say for sure because schools don’t keep those records. Some counselors expressed concern, some said it was too early to tell, but most said they haven’t had any dreamers walk in the door.

Jesse Barajas, a counselor at Gridley High, says he’ll expect they will once it’s time to start financial aid applications for college. His concern is that students won’t be able to work during college to pay expenses and that they’ll also feel discouraged about their employment opportunities after they graduate. “A lot of the times, they just feel defeated because the policies that are in place do not suit their needs," he said. "I hate to say it, but sometimes I think they just start giving up on themselves before we’ve had a chance to instill that belief system that you know what, this is a country of opportunities.”

Barajas tells all of his students to stay hopeful. He believes that once more DACA students enter the workforce, it will be impossible to ignore their value.