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DACA students uncertain about future under Trump administration

Posted at 10:20 PM, Nov 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-30 12:08:23-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) Students at the University of Arizona can look forward to bright futures. But for a freshman named Ana, the future is unclear.
Ana, who wanted to keep her identity private, was born in Mexico. Her parents brought her to the United States when she was 3, and she was granted legal status through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
President Barack Obama instituted the policy through executive action in 2012. It allows certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to work, get a drivers license, and grants them protection from deportation. Permits are good for two years and to qualify you must have a clean record.
Now DACA recipients, like Ana, are left wondering what will happen to the program under President-Elect Donald Trump. 
"You don't really know the outcome, or what steps he's gonna take," Ana said. "If you did know, you'd know how to fight it, how to go about it."
It's unclear if the incoming president will take any action regarding DACA. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, President-Elect Trump said he would focus on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records. 
DACA was the source of controversy for years, sparking rallies and lawsuits across the country including in Arizona. Critics said President Obama acted outside of his authority when he implemented the policy. 
Immigration attorney Patricia Mejia says once again immigrant families and DACA students are in limbo. 
"Right now we are telling people if they are renewing, to renew as quickly as possible. To file before he takes office," Mejia said. "And for people who are first-time applicants, we're actually not doing them anymore because we think it might be a waste of time and a waste of money."
This week hundreds of professors and faculty members signed a letter to schools across the state, urging universities to protect and support DACA students. 
One of them was Dr. Anna Ochoa O'Leary, the head of the Mexican American Studies department at the U of A. 
"We felt that there was a need to rally in support of students who may be feeling very fearful at this time, or parents of those students who maybe perhaps might have even advised them not to apply," Ochoa O'Leary said. 
The letter says, in part, "in the next semester, we face the prospect of mass arrests, imprisonment, and deportation for students who have spent most of their lives in the United States and have been educated in American school classrooms." 
The signees also made the following requests: 
  • Ensure that student privacy remains guaranteed. 
  • Assign an administrative office the responsibility for counseling DACA students on their educational situation. Advertise DACA student counseling services are available on a strictly confidential basis. 
  • Continue in-state resident tuition for DACA students who have qualified previously. 
  • In the event of arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, or due to student reluctance to travel to or appear on campus, have in place arrangements for online continuation of their degree programs. 

KGUN9 reached out to the U of A and received the following statement from Chris Sigurdson, the Vice President for Communications:

"The University of Arizona has welcomed and provided DACA students with all the support we can within our authority.

Much of what the writers ask for in the letter is already in place at the University of Arizona. Student privacy is assured by federal law, and it applies to all students regardless of residency status. That includes safeguarding their personal information, academic record, counseling services and any information the students want to withhold from the student directory. There already is an Immigrant Student Resource Center, funded by student fees that assists DACA and other students. Online degree programs are available and the cost is the same for all students regardless of residency or immigration status.
As for tuition, the Arizona Board of Regents sets tuition for the state's public universities. In 2015, the Board decided to interpret its tuition policies in accordance with a Superior Court decision that determined that DACA students who meet residency requirements may qualify for resident tuition. That interpretation has not changed.
The University of Arizona is open to all qualified students and we value a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and people. Immigration status is not a question either our campus police or our admissions staff would ask."
Arizona State University President Michael Crow also released a statement regarding DACA students. Crow said ASU is committed to DACA students and all DREAMers. 
While there's no telling what will happen in the coming months, Ana will continue to do what she came here to do -- work towards a better life. She juggles two part-time jobs, and studies at both the U of A and Pima Community College. 
Ana says she wants to become an immigration attorney because she feels like she understands the struggles immigrant families face in the U.S.
"If you were in my shoes you would understand that I'm here to study, I'm here to work, and I'm here to succeed," Ana said.