Presidential Task Force holds DACA panel discussion
In September, President Denise Trauth assembled a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) task force to identify existing resources and propose ways to expand support for DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers.” The task force, led by Dr. Jaime Chahin, Dean of the College of Applied Arts, organized a DACA panel discussion on November 5, open to all students, faculty and staff.
Before the panel, Dr. Chahin sent a university-wide message announcing the launch of a new DACA webpage including information on services available to DACA recipients, and frequently asked questions and videos about financial aid and the legal aspects of DACA.
Dr. Scott Bowman, Special Assistant to the Provost for Inclusion and Diversity, moderated the panel. Panel speakers included Angelica Coronado, Director of the Attorney for Students Office, Dr. Sarah Coleman, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, University Police Department Chief Laurie Clouse, Michelle Sotolongo, Student Development Specialist in the Honors College, Dr. Christopher Murr, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, and student Cesar Santos.
On November 12, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the DACA case. The Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the legality of the termination of the Presidential Executive Order that protected DACA recipients from deportation, and allowed them to seek work permits.
Although the Supreme Court’s decision isn’t expected to be released until June 2020, the panelists discussed possible outcomes. Coronado conjectured, the government could stop processing pending applications and allow current DACA recipients’ protected status and work authorization to expire. The Supreme Court could determine the termination of DACA was lawful, which would result in no new DACA applications or renewals. The government could assign an expiration date to existing applications. Or, Congress could pass a new DREAM Act, and a future administration could reinstate DACA with even more protections that can’t be challenged in court.
“That’s why it’s important we vote and talk to our Congressmen and women about these issues,” added Coronado.
Dr. Coleman, who will teach a class on the American history of immigration in the spring, said it’s important to consider the current DACA situation from a historical point-of-view.
“There have been many different patterns of immigration over the years, but it’s a relatively new concept, which began in the 1960’s, to consider this immigration pattern to be illegal,” said Dr. Coleman. “They’re challenging (DACA) on a technicality - how it was terminated. So, the administration could still end (DACA) in a different way (after the Supreme Court’s ruling). In America, there is a long history of large-scale, executive action being taken on immigration, like when President Reagan protected from deportation the unauthorized minor children of parents authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.”
Each panelist shared information about services available to students with DACA status and those with questions about immigration issues. The Attorney for Students Office can help students renew their DACA applications, and see if they’re eligible for other statuses.
Sotolongo said she has helped provide training to faculty and staff on immigration issues since 2010, including a 3-hour workshop, which more than 400 faculty and staff members have completed. She also described the Dreamer Safe Office program, which identifies offices where personnel have received the training, as well as the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment (SCOPE) organization, which she said shares valuable information in their meetings and on social media. Several university websites include information for students, including Diversity Connections, a resource to find faculty and staff, and the Student Diversity and Inclusion website, which lists available programs and frequently asked questions.
Dr. Murr described how the financial aid office helps students apply for scholarships and fill out the TASFA, which DACA students use to apply for state-level aid. The Bobcat Online Scholarship System is a one-stop-location to access scholarships, and it includes scholarships open to non-citizens. He assured attendees that the financial aid office does not collect or share information about students’ DACA status.
The panel also discussed the law enforcement and criminal justice aspects of DACA.
Coronado shared that although DACA recipients are protected from deportation, the government has attempted, unsuccessfully, to deport some DACA recipients. She reminded the attendees that a lawyer can help prevent that from happening and attempt to get the proceeding terminated. Chief Clouse and Coronado shared that certain misdemeanors can be deportable offenses for DACA recipients. Chief Clouse added that UPD does not ask for students’ immigration status, and there has been no occasion where UPD has been involved in immigration enforcement.
The panelists agreed, regardless of the outcome from the Supreme Court, services and support for Dreamers at Texas State will not go away. The task force and offices across the university are working to enhance and expand support available. Sotolongo, for example, said she is working with neighboring institutions to strengthen the university’s support network.
Dr. Ron Johnson, a member of the DACA task force, asked the panel how the university can prepare for heightened tensions that tend to accompany presidential elections. Chief Clouse responded that for UPD, the focus is on education and training. They recently completed Implicit Bias training from the Anti-Defamation League, and training on crowd-control measures.
Jesse Silva, DACA task force member and associate director in the office of student diversity and inclusion, reminded attendees to consider the intersectionality of identities and how that may impact the experience and needs of DACA recipients.
“Students tend to ‘out themselves’ (as DACA recipients) to other students,” said Silva. “We need an ecology of inclusion and diversity across the whole university - and the DACA task force and this panel are signs that we are leveraging our ecology of support and showing a commitment to our students, first and foremost.”
An audience member asked the panel how to support a friend who confides in them that they are worried about their DACA status. Panelist Cesar Santos suggested, remind them of support services available to them, including the Counseling Center.
“Be informed, know their struggle, and recognize your privilege,” said Santos.
Sotolongo added, encourage them to attend a SCOPE meeting and access available resources, but don’t try to give them a false sense of security.
“Don’t placate them by saying, it’ll all be OK – because we don’t actually know it’ll be OK,” said Sotolongo. “We want students to concentrate on school, not their immigration status. It causes them to worry about their housing and money – it causes great stress. So when they need help, don’t give them a ‘blind referral,’ like ‘go to the Dean of Students Office,’ because some students may think that’s a large, monolithic institution. Instead, tell them exactly who to speak with in that office, give them a name.”
Sotolongo reminded the crowd, “Remember to use appropriate, compassionate language. No human is illegal, only actions can be illegal.”
Dr. Bowman discussed the importance of hiring diverse faculty members and encouraging faculty to receive continued training. He, along with Sotolongo, described the new Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program that provides training for faculty and staff about a variety of issues, including the experiences of students with DACA status.
“There is privilege in doing nothing – in being able to say, these aren’t my people, it’s not my problem,” said Dr. Bowman. “Be an ally. Use your vote. Don’t make a ‘Boogie Man’ out of the ‘other.’ Help show that DACA recipients are your neighbor, your friends’ parents, your co-workers, your classmates.”
The Presidential DACA Task Force includes: Kama Davis, Staff Attorney, Dean of Students; Dr. Ron Johnson, Presidential Fellow; Ramces Luna, President, Hispanic Policy Network; Dr. Bob Edward Vásquez, Associate Professor, School of Criminal Justice; Jesse Silva, Associate Director, Student Diversity and Inclusion; and Dr. Stella Silva, Associate Chief Diversity Officer.