Santa Monica College Waives DACA Fees Goodbye

 Illustration By Diana Parra Garcia

Illustration By Diana Parra Garcia

The White House announcement of repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Tuesday, September 5th left many Santa Monica College students worried about their future and of their fellow colleagues. Not only did SMC students immediately stand against the elimination of DACA with community-building workshops and protests, faculty members also showed support by pooling $16,000 in financial aid for students to renew their DACA applications.

But institutional support officially arrived on Sunday, September 27, when the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, the City of Santa Monica, and SMC Foundation announced that they will contribute $60,000 to waive DACA application fees for students. The SMC Foundation and SMMUSD contributed $35,000, while Santa Monica City Council provided $25,000.

Manuel Portugal, a second-year Journalism major, who has done around nine internships, currently interning at Power 106 while working on a documentary for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, weighs in on the fundraising campaign as a DACA recipient. “I think it’s great," Portugal said. "Any small amount that will help students, especially students of low-income, it really helps out.”

The SMC Foundation’s “Dreamer Scholarship” consisted of contributions from SMC alumni, students, faculty, and Santa Monica residents, with $200 being the average amount donated and $2,000 as the largest contribution donated by a supporter.

President and Dean of SMC Foundation, Lizzy Moore, explained how the staff and faculty quickly mobilize to help financially aid students before the October 5th deadline. “The order came down so last minute and it was such a significant amount of money for a student to come up with so the foundation agreed to commit $15,000 to the cause. We reached our goal within eight days”, says Moore.

The goal was quickly met and exceed past expectations. While faculty members have yet to hold a meeting regarding the plans on what to do and the outcome of the remaining funds, around 102 students/alumni were assisted to renew their applications. Approximately 70 students completed their renewal because of SMC. Moore assures students that “If money is an issue let’s not make it an issue. We will not stop fighting.”

Portugal goes on to talk about the reaction he saw from the SMC community on Sept. 5th. “I saw that there was a march a day after, I saw professors crying and it’s a troubling time right now but I feel like a lot of professors and students are really trying to help other people navigate through these difficult times,” Portugal said.

President and Superintendent of SMC, Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, expressed her stance on DACA being rescinded. We remain committed to helping them fulfill their life’s dreams and aspirations…this college will continue to be a safe environment for all students and personnel.”

As tough as the past months under Trump's administration might have been for DACA students, some at SMC have taken the opportunity to revitalize the way they think about the shared community they live in and how to offer more resources.

Workshops like Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, created by the Center for Teaching Excellence, are designed for faculty members to refine their teaching abilities to be more resourceful for student success. The most recent workshop held on Oct. 5 implemented a 3-hour long training session, with a goal to have teachers leave as experts on DACA. The Undocumented Ally workshop objectives include creating a network of visible allies that help provide information and support for undocumented students.

Hosted by Director of Special Programs Nick Mata and faculty advisor for the I.D.E.A.S Club Dr. Marisol Moreno, the workshop emphasizes the need to remind professors at SMC to encourage students to apply for such scholarships.

“I feel like it’s a very safe area. From what I’ve seen, everyone is very attentive to what students need”, Portugal said. “In other schools, it may not be that way but in here…it helps out a lot, because I was raised in Inglewood, coming here - it was culture shock.” Portugal did not apply for the scholarship himself, since he made sure to re-apply before the Oct. 5th deadline. However, he took up the issue on the college campus communication with students about the subsidy they were providing for DACA students. “I don’t want to give an excuse but I feel like there should be more awareness to that scholarship. Two emails are fine but sometimes they go to the spam folder and for a lot of students they might not see it. There should be more psychical outreach, during activity hour,” Portugal said.

Psychology major Ruth Colato, also felt public announcements have more of an impact than emails in informing students. “The only reason I knew was because they sent me an email... but an actual event like right there [SMC Quad] ... will extremely help anyone who will pass by,” Colato said. “That will definitely grab more attention than any email.”

While SMC remains proud of the donations raised for assistance, some are left wondering how long the attention will last or if there are other solutions. “We should be finding ways to make them legitimate citizens," SMC student Kastilla White said. "If they lived here their whole lives they’re doing great things, and they’re contributing to society I don’t see why they can’t earn a citizenship”

Portugal believes that issues like these need to continue being covered. “I think it’s a good start but it’s not the complete finish. A lot of news come and go, it shouldn’t be that way," Portugal said. "Like what happened in Puerto Rico, a lot of people only care for like two weeks, they donate and make it a one-time thing. It’s not really relevant to people's thought process, so this should really be in the forefront."