Left in limbo, DACA students navigate college life at UMN

In a recent survey DACA students expressed worry over the future of their legal status.

by Helen Sabrowsky

Last September, U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but ongoing discussions in federal appeals courts have blocked the proposal so far — leaving DACA recipients in limbo.

A recently published survey about DACA students highlighted the strains they feel and made recommendations for how universities can support these students. Many recipients rely on the DACA program’s protections to attend school. 

For DACA students at the University of Minnesota, the uncertainty over the future of the program has left many worried. 

One University student and DACA recipient said the instability of her legal status is nerve-racking for both herself and her parents. “I don’t know what we can do except worry,” she said. “I know we can hope for better things, but with the way things are looking right now … we’re not sure what we can do. It’s definitely scary.”

According to the survey, 83 percent of DACA students described themselves as “very anxious” about their immigration status, and 86 percent expressed concern over the legal status of their family.

The student said there isn’t a strong community for DACA and undocumented immigrants at a University level or in general. 

“It can be tough just going about your life feeling like you have this huge secret,” she said.

Another University student and recipient of DACA also expressed concern over how the end of the program would change everyday life.

“I … have to live day-to-day knowing that after [my DACA status expires], I won’t be able to work,” she said. “My entire livelihood is gone after that date. So there’s … a date on my license that I have until to continue to function as a normal member of society.” 

She said the instability impacts many aspects of her life, from when to schedule her wisdom teeth removal to affording college. 

“It’s really hard to plan ahead when every single day the law is changing. If you talk to anyone who’s studied immigration law, they’ll tell you there’s really no stability here,” she said. 

The new survey was conducted by TheDream.US, an organization that provides DACA and Temporary Protected Status students with scholarships. It found that 71 percent of DACA students work in some capacity while attending college. Over one-third provide financial support to their families. 

“I can’t work for some federal agencies, and I can’t apply for the most competitive scholarships. I’ve already come to terms with that, but I’ve always had a safety net of being able to work three jobs during the summer to save up to pay tuition,” the student said. “I’m constantly saving up money for what will happen after I am no longer able to work.” 

While the future of DACA remains uncertain, the student said she finds comfort in knowing that undocumented students have found success.

“I will more than likely graduate and I won’t be able to legally work, so what’s the point?” she said. “But I keep thinking there are all these people before me and after me who continue to study, and I have to at least view that as a motivator and a driver because looking back isn’t going to do much. You can only live in the moment right now.”

Gaby Pacheco, program director for advocacy, development and communications at TheDream.US called on university communities to support DACA students. 

The report included recommendations on how universities can better support DACA students, including establishing resource centers for undocumented students and providing information to help students access nutrition, health care, employment and immigration resources.

In early 2017, the University formed the Immigration Response Team, led by Marissa Hill-Dongre, to provide additional support to immigrant students. She said the team often works with DACA students who have expressed concern over many of the issues outlined in the report.   

“They have been in this limbo for more than a year now, and it certainly does impact all of those areas … concerns about the ability to afford tuition, food insecurity, doubts about their future,” Hill-Dongre said. 

While the University has no official estimation of how many DACA students attend the University, Hill-Dongre said she is constantly made aware of additional DACA students.

In addition to existing concerns, both Hill-Dongre and Pacheco said it is likely the Supreme Court will intervene in DACA. If this happens, Pacheco said it is likely DACA will be phased out. 

“We know that once it goes to the Supreme Court, there will be a winding down of this program,” Pacheco said. 

The removal of DACA’s protections will greatly affect students who benefit from those protections, she said. 

“The minute [DACA students] don’t have the opportunity to have that driver’s license, to have that work permit is going to significantly affect the lives of these young people and their families and their communities,” Pacheco said.