College reaffirms commitment to protecting and assisting DACA recipients

Students react to President Donald Trump’s actions and create events as shown here in Braun Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Photo by Sam Pess/Occidental College

President Donald Trump announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Sept. 5, setting March 6, 2018 as the cancellation date for recipients who are not approved for renewal earlier. DACA is a federal policy that offers renewable two-year immunity from deportation to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before age 16. The policy — which former President Barack Obama ’83 established in 2012 with a memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security — gave around 800,000 people deferred removal action and access to work permits.

Maricela Martinez, senior associate dean and director of transfer admission and inclusion, said that Occidental College welcomes applications from all students regardless of their immigration status.

“For as long as I’ve been here, Oxy has encouraged all students, regardless of their citizenship status or national origin, to apply to the college,” Martinez said. “For now, that includes both undocumented and DACA students.”

Martinez said that admissions policies regarding undocumented students will not change with the end of DACA.

“Both DACA, and of course undocumented students, do not qualify for any federal funding. So that means that if we admit a student, then as a school that meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, institutional funding is used in place of federal funding,” Martinez said. “The termination of DACA doesn’t really change any of our policies.”

Administrators had been preparing the college’s response to a change in federal immigration policy before Trump ended DACA. President Jonathan Veitch declared the college a sanctuary campus via campus-wide email Jan. 25. According to Veitch’s email, Occidental will not honor requests for students’ personal records without consent and will not help federal authorities enforce immigration law.

Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Rhonda Brown is part of the Coordinating Group on Sanctuary Campus, along with Danita Maxwell, director of human resources; Lisa Sousa, history professor; and Celestina Castillo, director of the Center for Community Based Learning. According to Brown, the coordinating group has taken the lead in determining how the college will handle any situations involving Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Brown said it is highly unlikely that the college will receive requests for data on students, but even if it did, it would not be able to provide any data that is not already available to the government.

“All we might be able to give, they already have,” Brown said. “There is no great wealth of information that we’ve got cached away somewhere that they might somehow get access to.”

According to Brown, the coordinating group has also discussed how the college would respond if ICE agents came to campus.

“We had to be real clear on what Campus Safety’s role was going to be. If [ICE agents] were to come and look for a student or someone, would [Campus Safety] go find them for them, or would they say, ‘this is where they are, and we’ll open the door?'” Brown said. “The answer is no. We’re not going to support or help them do something along those sorts of lines.”

According to Brown, Occidental held know-your-rights trainings in the spring and summer to prepare staff members for potential encounters with ICE agents. Brown said that she plans to hold similar trainings for students soon to inform them of what they should and should not do if confronted by ICE. For example, Brown said that she learned in the sessions that people should never give ICE officials a social security number.

“The largest thing that we learned was people give up information that could be harmful. To be forewarned is to be prepared in that situation,” Brown said. “So we thought we might repeat that sort of training for students, because they really didn’t get it. We’re planning another [training] for students shortly.”

According to Brown, the Occidental community may have overemphasized the likelihood of encounters with ICE agents.

“I think people initially thought, ‘oh, ICE people are gonna be on campus, and drag away students on campus.’ We had these ugly visions in our heads,” Brown said. “I don’t think that will be the case.”

Brown said that if undocumented students need ongoing support or resources, herself and Reverend Susan Young, director for the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL), are the people to contact.

“Susan Young, who is our chaplain, is a confidential resource. That means you can go to her, you can tell anything,” Brown said. “Susan and I work very closely together. I don’t need to know who the student is, all I need to know is how I get ‘x, y and z’ to Susan so that she can get it to the student.”

According to Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President Zachary Solomon (junior), ASOC put money in a support fund Sept. 25 to ensure that all students who needed to renew their DACA status had the funding to do so. Solomon said that ASOC set aside $5,000 from its discretionary fund to constitute the DACA application emergency fund, which students could use if they needed help paying the $495 application fee.

“We decided that the best framework for us to take — what made the most sense for us to be able to make a positive impact in the time we had — was to set aside this fund that could offer support to students,” Solomon said.

Solomon said that because Brown and the ORSL were providing support on a case-by-case basis, ASOC felt it was necessary to provide a general support fund to cover any part of the renewal fee that the administration would not.

“The administration was willing to provide the support as needed, and we believed that we should provide blanket support,” Solomon said.

Brown and Solomon both said that they were not aware of any students using the fund. Solomon said that the fund will continue to offer retroactive support if students wish to be reimbursed for paying the application fee for DACA status renewal.

“If no one uses the fund, if no one requests money from us, that’s totally fine,” Solomon said. “As long as it was an option and people were aware of it, then that’s accomplished its goal. By the end of the year, if no one has reached out to us and requested that, then we’ll do something else with [the funding]. Something else that improves the student experience.”