The U.S. Supreme Court decided to uphold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — overruling the President’s rescission — but only time will tell how that may impact Utah State University. However, uncertainty is something undocumented students and families live with on a daily basis.
“It’s a strain from uncertainty for yourself,” said Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez, a psychology professor at USU who focuses on Latinx mental health. “And it’s a strain of uncertainty and concerns you have of safety for your family.”
Domenech Rodríguez is from Puerto Rico, so she never had to worry about documentation, but she’s witnessed the stress and mental health concerns the uncertainty brings out in those who don’t have citizenship themselves, or for their family members.
“I think this context right now is a toxic-trauma-inducing context,” she said. “You know, if every morning when you woke up, you weren’t sure if you would be able to come back home, you weren’t sure if you were going to be safe out there, if the police were going to pick you up and take you someplace else, or you weren’t sure that when your child or your parents or your sibling or another family member walked out the door that they were going to come back to you. You have to consider that every day.”
Luis Rodriguez, the multicultural program coordinator at USU’s Inclusion Center, said the cultural climate at USU has been changing over the years, but more work needs to be done to increase diversity and students’ feelings of safety.
“There are a lot of roadblocks when it comes to trying to provide support for undocumented students,” he said.
Utah is in a different position than other states because of the 2002 House Bill 144, which allowed undocumented students to receive in-state tuition if they graduated from a Utah high school.
Over the past 10 years, USU has seen a decrease in undocumented students and DACA recipients. The Obama-era policy stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and offered limited protection to undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
In the early years of HB144, USU had 40-50 undocumented students, according to Rodriguez. By 2019, he said it had dropped to “maybe 20.”
“I believe since then there has been a pretty high decrease into support systems, at least in the way that undocumented and DACA students feel within the community and on campus,” he said, “and there hasn’t been a big push to support them until now.”
While the 5-4 Supreme Court decision can be considered a win for DREAMers, Rodriguez said its relief may only be temporary.
“The court’s decision only states that the administration did not follow the guidelines to properly shut down this type of program,” he said, “and they didn’t consider how that would be impacting the communities, not just the people under the program.”
So temporary, in fact, Domenech Rodríguez said that the relief only lasted 48 hours for many — until word came from the White House that President Donald Trump would try again to rescind DACA in the future.
“There’s nothing to stop Trump from writing another memo to then stop it in a different way,” she said. “All of that uplifted, like ‘Oh my gosh, we get to take a deep breath at least for a minute,’ that lasted 48 hours. I mean, that feels cruel.”
This could add to fears of registering for the program leading to potentially facing deportation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the U.S.’s Department of Homeland Security, as was seen in the 2006 raids at Hyrum’s then-Swift meat packing plant (now JBS).
“So far, the current acting director of ICE has said that if the program is repealed, they will start deporting documented students, which puts a lot of fear for those that have applied for the program,” Rodriguez said. “And from there, they have a fear that ICE will have access to that information afterwards.”
The fear and uncertainty are common for many Latinx families, Domenech Rodríguez said, because many families have mixed-documentation status.
Incidents of racism can also play into the decrease as it makes students feel unsafe on campus and in the community, at large.
“Students (have filled out incident reports) feeling unsafe because of interactions with others, sometimes their peers or sometimes other professionals, where they sometimes will do microaggressions,” he said. “For example, a common one we’ve heard about pretty often is professors not wanting to learn their names.”
And those are just the ones who have reported. Domenech Rodríguez said many students lack the “sense of safety” to come forward with complaints.
“(There’s the thought that) ‘I have no recourse because I’m documented, right? So if I’m mistreated, who do I complain to?’” she said. “If there’s an injustice done … ‘nobody’s gonna care. I’m expendable if I’m undocumented.’”
And while USU’s Office of Equity has created anti-bias training, as does the Inclusion Center, Rodriguez said “the people that want to take them already know, and so we’ve noticed we’re reaching audiences that we know are going to listen, but we don’t know who we are not reaching, who actually needs those trainings.”
Another factor that could be leading to the decline in applicants is while the University of Utah added the Dream Center specifically to support undocumented students, USU’s attention to resources are lacking.
“One example of that that really needs to be addressed is resources on the university website for undocumented and DACA students, because a lot of the times, that’s the first thing that a student will see and will try to look for those resources,” he said. “Right now, it’s only one page, where it’s just kind of a list, and it’s really not interactive. It’s not well put together.”
When the Trump administration rescinded DACA Sept. 7, 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped processing applications for students to be considered for the program. The Supreme Court’s June 18 CIS was supposed to once again open applications for consideration, but as of Wednesday, that hasn’t happened.
On Tuesday, Senators Dick Durbin and Kamala Harris, along with 33 other Democrats of the Senate, sent a letter to the department of Homeland Security calling for DACA to be reopened to accept applications immediately.