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California College Faculty and Staff Advocate for Backup Plans in the Event DACA is Terminated
Iveth Díaz has dedicated much of her career to assisting immigrant students who are living in the U.S. without permanent legal status and helping them navigate through college. However, she faced her own challenges when her application to renew her work permit and temporary protection from deportation was delayed due to backlogs, forcing her to resign from her job for a three-month period.
“It was an extremely stressful time. I experienced anxiety and depression, which unfortunately is very common within our community,” said Díaz.
Díaz, along with other college and university employees who have work permits and protection through the DACA program, are urging universities to take more proactive measures in helping them prepare alternative employment plans in case the program comes to an end. Some proposals include assisting employees in becoming independent consultants, providing severance packages, or sponsoring work visas.
The DACA program provides temporary protection from deportation and permission to work for approximately 579,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and have either graduated from high school, completed a GED, or are U.S. military veterans. Recipients must apply for renewal every two years, but the program is at risk of ending at any time. It has been deemed illegal by a federal judge in Texas, and the case is likely to reach the Supreme Court.
While the program has traditionally been associated with high school and college students, the majority of recipients are now working adults. New applications have not been accepted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since 2017, meaning that the youngest DACA recipients are currently 21 years old, with the oldest being 42.
“The DACA generation are no longer children,” said Madeleine Villanueva, higher education manager of Immigrants Rising. “Many of us are in our 30s and 40s. We are doing this work so that future generations of undocumented students won’t face the same challenges we did when we were in school.”
While the exact number is unclear, hundreds of faculty and staff at California colleges and universities are DACA recipients. According to the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration’s Higher Ed Immigration Portal, there are approximately 9,211 recipients working in education in California, ranging from elementary school to college. The University of California estimates that it has over 400 employee recipients, some of whom are also students. Spokespersons for California State University and California Community Colleges stated that they do not have data on the number of employees who are temporarily protected from deportation.
Díaz worked at CSU San Bernardino for over eight years as an administrative support coordinator for graduate researchers and as an admissions counselor. She now leads a program at Cerritos College for students who do not have permanent legal immigration status. As a fellow at Immigrants Rising, she conducted a survey of approximately 65 employees from California colleges and universities who were living in the U.S. without permission at one point, with most of them now having DACA protections. The surveyed employees included faculty, counselors, researchers, and financial aid and admissions workers.
According to Díaz, the survey revealed that most respondents indicated that their colleges and universities had not made any preparations in case the program ends.
“Are we waiting until the program is completely canceled, or are institutions taking proactive steps to retain their employees?” asked Díaz. “I found that 70% of respondents stated that their institutions had not even addressed the issue or discussed a response plan, which is very concerning.”
Laura Bohórquez García, the director of the AB 540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis, has decided to start her own business, Inner Work Collective Freedom, to employ herself in case the program ends and she loses her work permit.
“I’m thinking, how do I prepare? Because I don’t think the university would be ready to step in,” said Bohórquez García.
In addition to making plans in case DACA ends, concerned university employees and advocates have recommended that universities offer more mental health benefits and that supervisors regularly check in on their employees’ mental well-being.
Many DACA recipients working in colleges and universities hold positions dedicated to supporting immigrant students on campus, providing them with legal services or mental health counseling. However, many of these positions are part-time and do not offer health benefits, which are crucial when living with the uncertainty of losing temporary protection from deportation, advocates have pointed out.
“So much of what they do and the fires they have to put out when it comes to students also impact them,” said Luz Bertadillo Rodríguez, director of campus engagement at the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. “Whenever there are updates regarding DACA, the constant word or feeling I hear is ‘exhausted.’ They’re tired of living their lives two years at a time, and even that is not certain.”
Whenever a new court decision is announced regarding the program, employees who work in immigrant resource centers often find themselves holding workshops or trainings to explain the decision to students, while also grappling with their own emotions regarding the decision.
“You have to check in with the students, but sometimes no one is checking in with you,” said Eric Yang, a recipient who has worked with immigrant students at two different California universities. “How can we help others if we can’t even advocate for ourselves?”
Currently, officials at the University of California are exploring ways to support employees if the temporary deportation protections are terminated, according to Stett Holbrook, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. He added that the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center provided immigration consultation workshops for recipient employees last summer, many of which identified eligibility for employment, family, or humanitarian relief.
RESOURCES FOR UNDOCUMENTED COLLEGE EMPLOYEES
“The University of California has a longstanding history of supporting DACA recipients, and we will continue to provide support to our students, staff, and faculty regardless of their immigration status,” stated Holbrook.
The University of California is also currently considering a proposal that would allow the university to hire students who do not have work permits under DACA. A coalition of immigrant students and allies, including legal scholars at UCLA and other institutions, have argued that a federal law prohibiting the hiring of immigrants without permission residing in the country does not apply to state entities.
California State University and California Community Colleges offer free legal services to employees who have temporary work permits. However, advocates have stated that many faculty and staff members are unaware that these services are not limited to students only.
Melissa Villarin, a spokesperson for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, stated that the community colleges have recently included resources for staff and faculty during the annual Undocumented Student Action Week.
Díaz also recommended further training for university staff regarding DACA recipients. According to the survey respondents, there is a lack of awareness or understanding