DACA uncertainty impacts professional development opportunities for undocumented students

Stephanie Li/Senior Staff

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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, ensures approved individuals a two-year, renewable period of deferred action from deportation and allows them to become eligible for work permits. For undocumented students at UC Berkeley, DACA provides the authorization necessary to receive financial aid through Director’s Work Study, according to the campus Undocumented Student Program, or USP, website.

In 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped accepting first-time DACA applicants. Those who have DACA and those who had DACA at some point in the past can still submit renewal applications.

“Not all of our undocumented students qualify for DACA,” said USP program director Liliana Iglesias in an email. “Once no new applications were (being) accepted, we’ve seen a shift. More students that have DACA are graduating and we’re seeing less and less students come in with DACA.”

An undocumented student who has DACA and is applying to the work-study program must also be receiving DREAM Act aid — a state-funded financial aid program unrelated to DACA. If approved for the program, the student will receive a bimonthly or monthly paycheck, and their salary will come from work-study funds, as well as from the department that hired them, according to the USP website.

However, Iglesias emphasized that the benefits of the work-study program for undocumented students can go beyond the additional financial aid they receive.

“(DREAM Act aid) is still happening; it’s just the work authorization part (of financial aid) that is tied to DACA,” Iglesias said. “(DACA) does impact students that are eligible for aid because they have less opportunities for professional development.”

Litigation surrounding DACA is ongoing, and the future of the program is unstable.

Currently, there are three nationwide injunctions in place that were issued by the U.S. District Courts for the Northern District of California, the Eastern District of New York and the District of Columbia. These injunctions followed the 2017 announcement by the Donald Trump administration to terminate the DACA program.

“DACA is uncertain and the decision could go either way,” Iglesias said in an email. “We, as a campus, are trying to create solutions that would meet the financial and professional development needs of our students that do not have work authorization.”

According to Iglesias, the campus is also engaged in an “ongoing conversation” about how it can address the gap in financial aid and basic needs for students who do not have DACA.

Iglesias expressed that this discussion has not yet led to any tangible solutions.

“These things are very sensitive, so we’re trying to come up with solutions that we’ll be able to address with our students (that will) also be in compliance with (the) policies of the university,” Iglesias said.

Students at UC Berkeley and across the country are confronted with the fact that DACA may continue to be inaccessible to first-time applicants or that it may be dismantled entirely. More recently, undocumented students have been faced with the fear of potential U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raids across the country — including in the Bay Area.

The ongoing stress surrounding when, or if, these raids will take place has had an effect on students, according to Iglesias.

“It’s definitely (affected) our students’ mental health, and not just those who are undocumented … but those who have family members or community members who are undocumented,” Iglesias said. “A lot of students have come in and asked, ‘What can I do?’ ”

Iglesias added that there is a lot of “fear and heightened anxiety” surrounding the alleged upcoming raids, which is affecting not only students’ mental health, but their academics as well.

Olivia Jerram is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected].