By Candice Murdock, Staff Writer
On April 10, the Hispanic Latino Association (HISLA) held a forum on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that explained the realities of being an undocumented student in the United States to students, faculty, and staff at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Virginia Braxs, a Washington University professor of Spanish, vice president of the Hispanic Arts Council, and co-founder of the educational task force Universidad Ya! spoke at the event.
The event began with an introduction about the struggles of undocumented students. Braxs used materials such as videos and PowerPoint slides to drive home the importance of recognizing how many students are left without any solutions as to continue their education after high school. Her PowerPoint presentation provided examples of high school students who had to make tough decisions as to what they were going to do after high school because of their status as undocumented students.
People attending the DACA forum watched PBS’s “The Graduates/Los Graduados” that went over the realities of being an undocumented student. The documentary captured the lives of two students, a young man named Gustaro who faced a dilemma his senior year and a young teenage mother named Darlene from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gustaro realized that he lacked an essential element needed in order to apply for college: a social security number. During the duration of Gustaro’s segment, he became determined to find other solutions. One of the solutions was becoming a social activist and working toward getting protections offered under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which allows undocumented students to obtain legalization through getting an education and working part-time, among other things. Gustaro ended up getting into Freedom University, a university that allows undocumented students who are in the DACA program to have the college experience and prepare them for entering into a 4-year college.
The second story features Darlene, a teenager who had dropped out of high school after getting pregnant at 14. After having the baby, she realized that she needed to do something for herself. Darlene ended up enrolling in a school called Union Alternative School, where she worked to obtain a high school diploma.
Braxs next introduced six students who talked about the challenges of being an undocumented student. The DACA Forum panel featured a college graduate, three current college students, and two high school seniors. The panelists talked about what it is like to be a DACA beneficiary, including such limitations as the restrictions about where you can attend college, not having adequate support from counselors, getting scholarships, and having to pay the international student tuition. Some of their fears include the uncertainty of the program, a fear of who knocks on their doors, and fears for their families.
Vivian Garcia-Cruz, a high school senior at Rosati-Kain High School, explained the realities of being a DACA student: “Being a DACA student, we are in your classes, your schools, and it may sound crazy but it’s true as far as we exist. We also matter, and every single day is a struggle to get up and go to school. Realize some of these kids you go to school with have the whole world against them, and yet they come to school every single day, not knowing if they’ll see their parents when they get home. These kids … matter, they exist, they’re a part of this whole community, and that’s what makes America.”
With as many fears as students face with the program, DACA also provides benefits to students. Panelists said that they can find people who connect them to other people, the ability to work, the opportunity to support their families, as well as providing them with peers and people that they can look to as a examples.
The panel stressed the importance of educating people on what DACA is. The program that former President Barack Obama created June 12, 2012, calls for deferral of deportation for young people who were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the United States under the age of 16 years old, or received or plan to receive an education. The DACA program gives undocumented immigrants protection against deportation and allows a work permit.
As well as the DACA forum, HISLA will host other events related to educating people on the issues affecting people in the Hispanic community. Sara Ricardez, senior, biochemistry and biotechnology and president of HISLA, said, “As soon as the new administration started, we have been interested in ways of letting the whole community in on what’s going on in the Hispanic community. With all the problems we’re having, we are going to have more events about immigration, and this is a unique event for this semester, but we are going to have more events for next semester.”