The number of undocumented immigrants, as of 2015, stands at an astounding 11 million — accounting for nearly 3.4 percent of the U.S. population. There are some who wish to come out of their silent lives and try to make a difference in the country and its administration. The Obama-led Democratic administration, by passing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, made this desire a possibility.
Since 2012, the DACA federal program has transformed nearly 800,000 undocumented lives in the United States. It has directly opened up numerous pathways for young people who were either living here illegally as children, or children and young adults who stayed after their visa expirations. It allows undocumented students to attain a legal status and social security number with which they can peacefully apply and complete their higher education. Moreover, with the provision of a social security number, they are offered the opportunity to pay in-state tuition and have access to FAFSA, too, which makes it all the more feasible and accessible. It thus reduces financial pressures and simultaneously permits them to obtain new and better jobs. Thus, in more ways than one, the program represents the original American dream.
Since the election of the Trump administration, however, the entire idea and purpose behind DACA has evolved and continues to evolve daily. The president does not support the idea and announced in September that it will be phased out by March 2018. There are almost 800,000 people residing in the country under the program’s protection. If the program does manage to get permanently rescinded, there will essentially be thousands of adults without jobs and thousands of students without educational facilities.
The story of Luis Mora is one known to every student at UC Berkeley. The junior transfer was detained and later released by Border Patrol on grounds of illegal residency in the country. His story represents the present-day struggles and obstacles of undocumented people since the election of the new government.
Numerous measures were taken to quicken Mora’s release from detention. This included action from lawyers, politicians, and the students at Berkeley through the #FreeLuis campaign. He was released a week later after signing a $1,500 bond, which granted him permission to stay in the country until his next court date, when he’ll need to give a reason as to why he should stay in this country. Although Mora’s release only signifies a temporary safety at the moment, it is certainly a victory for the undocumented community.
At UC Berkeley, the Undocumented Student Program has expanded since the onset of the federal program in 2012. In addition to multiple student-run organizations across the campus, we receive help and aid from various organizations and networks that identify as allies to DACA and the students protected under it.
In my opinion, allyship is vital for this movement and its survival. It promotes strength and unity — the two fundamental ideas behind the whole movement. I don’t believe that we need extremely strong partners and people supporting the program as much as I believe that we need greater numbers. Numbers represent the mass, and the mass’s strength is capable of overturning any decision in any country. Thus, I feel that the role of allies such as TheDream.US, Center for American Progress and Graduates Reaching A Dream Deferred, is necessary, but with the continuous support of students and student-led organizations on college campuses in the country.
Popular student-led initiatives such as the UCLA Undocumented Student Program and the Longhorn Dreamers Project at UT Austin are examples of unity and support shown on college campuses. At UC Berkeley, the Undocumented Student Program accounts for and represents our support for undocumented students on our campus, and its immediate action seen in the Mora case is proof of this.
Yes, college programs and other initiatives do exist across the nation. But I believe it is every student’s duty to contribute to this program in some way or another. This can include a variety of measures, such as engaging with an open mind and creating a safe space for undocumented students on campus, building and connecting education networks, and connecting undocumented students to undocumented community leaders and supporters.
Additionally, keeping in mind possible financial conditions and difficulties of undocumented students as well as finding and advocating for scholarships and financial support would, perhaps, in addition to reducing financial pressures, help students overcome psychological and emotional barriers and restrictions due to their undocumented status in the country. Moreover, as a result of DACA, undocumented students now have access to more job opportunities — something that seemed improbable previously, given the lack of work authorizations.
Last month, Luis Mora donated $8,500 in bond payments for the release of three immigrant detainees. Mora stated that he wished to use the money collected for his release to help others facing similar challenges. The fact that he did not know any of these detainees further goes to show his solidarity toward people facing the challenges of undocumented lives. It sends a message to the Berkeley community as well as the global community that there are people looking out for one another, and it is our responsibility to lend a hand, too, in whatever way possible.
Luis Mora is only one individual, but today, his name represents the countless individuals who need our support and aid. How will you leave your mark in this fight for humanity?
Sasyak Pattnaik is a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in computer science and economics.