UNLV’s Dreamers Remain Resilient in Face of DACA Phase Out

By Aron Csiki and Bianca Cseke | September 10, 2017

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the six-month phase out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — or DACA — last Tuesday, it was a moment of reckoning for many young immigrants whose worst fears had come true.


The repeal of the Obama-era program — which shields immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children from deportation and granted them work permits and social security numbers — was a key promise of President Donald Trump while he was still a candidate for the White House.


Trump has since become more ambiguous about his stance on DACA, and has given Congress a six-month period to create an alternative to the program.


With nearly 800,000 DACA beneficiaries living in the U.S. and an estimated 10,000 of them graduating from college every year, the decision is one that throws the futures of a massive number of undocumented students (dubbed “Dreamers”) into a bleak uncertainty.


But for some undocumented students at UNLV, now is the time to clamp down on measures that defend the rights of those who’ve been granted the opportunity for higher education and careers.


The Free Press spoke with three DACA beneficiaries who shared their stories and helped find a number of on-campus resources.


Mariana Sarmiento and Esmeralda Cruz Lopez are the founding co-chairs of Undocunetwork, a registered student organization that was created in 2016 as means to cultivate and create resources for undocumented students on campus. Undocumented students — by nature of their citizenship status — do not qualify for any federal aid and are barred from most scholarships.


“Basically, we [Undocunetwork] provide awareness of the different resources on campus to pay for school,” Sarmiento said. “We do presentations to high school students about how they can go to college… we also do training for staff and faculty at UNLV about [helping undocumented students] and we also try to advocate on the college level for policies.”


At UNLV, undergraduate students who are approved for DACA, or are immigrants or international students, can’t apply for federal aid but may receive consideration for some financial aid programs. These include the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Rebel Challenge Scholarships, UNLV institutional scholarship programs, UNLV Foundation scholarship programs (unless a specific donor requires U.S. citizenship), UNLV grants and the Governor Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship.


Undocumented and DACA students who have graduated from a Nevada high school are eligible for in-state tuition.


Cruz Lopez said that Undocunetwork not only finds scholarships that undocumented students can benefit from, but also provides legal and health resources.


“We are a network of people, so in our organization we have a lot of allies, staff, professors, students and all that working together to compile all those resources,” she said.


Cruz Lopez, who came to America from Mexico City at the age of nine, said that despite the DACA repeal, she wants to remain hopeful for the future.


“I think we could all get educated on the topic of immigration itself,” she said of UNLV students. “Start mobilizing, sharing [undocumented students’] stories if they feel safe. Allies can definitely start creating those safe spaces for our immigrant students.”


Sarmiento echoed this sentiment in a separate interview, saying “Allies should be educating others about the myths and stereotypes of undocumented students. You know, we pay for our education completely through our own money because we aren’t eligible for federal funding or aid of any kind.”


Only U.S. citizens are eligible for federal Title IV aid programs, including Pell grants, the SEOG grant, TEACH grants, work study and federal student loans. International undergraduate students with a student visa may also be eligible for the same programs except for the Millennium Scholarship, according to UNLV Financial Aid and Scholarships.


Sarmiento, now a graduate student, has been living in Las Vegas since the age of one. Her earliest memory is eating ramen in an apartment her family lived in.


“I very much grew up thinking I was an American and feeling American in every sense of the word,” she said.


When she got to high school and could not yet legally apply for work, she put in hundreds of hours of community service through years of volunteering. That was until DACA changed her life with a work permit.


“This just comes back to the need for immigration reform… for parents and for other people that are in this country just trying to work hard and make a living,” Sarmiento said.


Laws and immigration reform like DACA help ensure undocumented immigrants can take advantage of many of the same experiences as U.S. citizens and documented immigrants.


UNLV’s Boyd School of Law is taking steps to help with the legal complexities that can inevitably arise in immigration cases.


The law school said its Immigration Clinic will provide free assistance to Nevada residents preparing their DACA renewal forms, which need to be submitted by Oct. 5. The help will be provided by volunteer law students and faculty at the law school, under the clinic’s attorneys’ supervision, the law school said in a statement. Members of the community interested in making an appointment or wanting more information should call 702-895-2080.

Another student, fittingly named America Reyes-Marcos, explained how DACA transformed her life.


“[DACA] has helped me tremendously,” she said. “I was able to go to college — maybe not get as many scholarships as other students, but I was really grateful getting the opportunity to go to school and get an education.


“It helped me a lot just because I get to also work and help my parents pay for school.”


Reyes-Marcos also immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City at a young age. She became politically active both on campus and in last year’s election when she interned with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She said she was upset by the irresponsible way Trump is dealing with DACA.


“I don’t want him to be playing around with what side he’s taking, I want a final answer so that we don’t have to keep worrying about this,” Reyes-Marcos said.


Cruz Lopez also endorsed the Chicano/Chicana-support group MEChA as a good source of support for undocumented immigrants and Reyes-Marcos cited the pro-choice group NARAL and UNLV’s Young Democrats as helpful organizations.  


But DACA students should still be aware if they decide to travel abroad. The federal government will no longer be granting Advanced Parole travel documents that allow DACA recipients to travel internationally and return to the U.S.


DACA students studying abroad in Fall 2017 should contact the UNLV Office of International Programs at 702-895-3896 or international.programs@unlv.edu, and should be careful about traveling abroad on advance parole, according to the resource guide UNLV published on its website.


Anyone whose DACA is expiring on or before March 5, 2018 needs to apply for a renewal by Oct. 5 to be considered.



Resources for DACA Students


United We Dream – unitedwedream.org


United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the U.S. Their nonpartisan network has over 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states. They organize and advocate for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status.


United We Dream seeks to address the inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth and believe that by empowering immigrant youth, they can advance the cause of the entire community.


The organization is driven by and accountable to thousands of members across the country who make up their grassroots network.


Educators for Fair Consideration – e4fc.org


E4fc provides financial support that enable undocumented people to overcome systemic barriers. The organization develops partnerships with key educational institutions to enhance their support for undocumented students, and identify promising practices that will embolden other educational institutions.


E4fc offers career training, mentorship, professional development and opportunities to educate and empower the undocumented community.


National Immigration Law Center – nilc.org/get-involved/trainings


Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center is exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.


The organization believes that all people who live in the U.S., regardless of race, gender, immigration or economic status, should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. They have played a major role in addressing policies that affect the ability of low-income immigrants to prosper and thrive.

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