SMC Community Comes Together in Support of DACA Students

With Tuesday's announcement by the Trump administration ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program begins an uncertain time for over 800,000 undocumented people in the United States, some of whom are SMC students.

The program, designed to allow undocumented immigrants, who were brought here as children access to work permits and a two-year period of safety from deportation, will no longer be accepting new applications. DACA recipients who need to renew their expiring applications will only have until October 5 to do so. The Trump administration claimed it will expect Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform before DACA expires, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

In response, members of the Santa Monica College faculty and campus community gathered in a workshop to discuss the effects of this decision, and where the students affected can go to receive the proper help from campus resources.

Melissa Tapia-Cortez, Co-Chair of the school's Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success (I.D.E.A.S.) Club that provides a safe space for students by helping them access DACA and AB-540 programs, spoke about why she hosted Tuesday's workshop.

"One of the main things that occurs for undocumented individuals is the feeling of alienation, like you can't talk to anyone because you're scared," Cortez said. "And so the main thing we wanted to get out of this was people seeing that there's this many people that care."

Cortez said she was shocked to see so many people in attendance; dozens of people filled up the room, emotions welling up while the various speakers told their stories and provided information in support of the group.

Along with faculty, SMC President Kathryn Jeffery also attended the workshop, signaling senior administration's support for the workshop. Jeffery talked about her experience growing up around racism while living in Oklahoma during the civil rights movement, and voiced her support for those affected by DACA's removal. "We stand with you, we support you," Jeffery said. She also issued a statement on the school's website, committing to serve 'dreamer' students and to continue SMC's status as a safe space for all students and personnel.

That safe space includes students like A.S. Vice President Edgar Gonzalez, who is undocumented and has been consistent in vocalizing his support for others like him at SMC. "I feel like we as students, we got to mobilize and make change, and we've got to use our student government to be there and represent us. I feel like it's my responsibility to speak up for undocumented students, and to represent us as a whole." Gonzalez said. "We've got to continue fighting until we feel like we belong, not only in the whole nation but on this campus."

Providing Avenues for Undocumented Students

In addition to the talks given were introductions to some of the programs and groups available to students in and out of the DACA and AB-540 group, a state program that exempts qualified undocumented students from paying the higher non-resident tuition fees.

While SMC does not count the number of students in DACA, Dean of Institutional Research Hannah Lawler said via email that SMC enrolled 1,075 credit students eligible for AB-540 for the Fall 2015 semester, the latest on record, many of whom are also qualified for DACA.

Outside of these federal and state programs, SMC also provides its own resources. Director of Special Programs Nick Mata talked about SMC's Undocumented Ally Program, a network of Santa Monica College faculty, staff, and students trained to help undocumented students.

"It's a three hour training, so faculty, staff managers, and students can go through this training, and it talks about the different legislation that currently affects undocumented students, both negatively and positively," Mata said. The training also provides information on resources to help students graduate, illustrates the various personal accounts of undocumented students, and teaches people how they can be allies/mentors for others.

SMC also has the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) club on campus, that "strives for educational, cultural, social and political empowerment." ALAS meets on Tuesdays in HSS 156 from 11:15-12:35. Natividad Vasquez, a student specialist in the EOPS office who started the ALAS club, talked about how helpful her interactions with undocumented students were. "When you form study groups, there could be someone who is undocumented who's smarter than you in math, and when you're able to help them in an English class and they're helping you in math class, you're both winning out," Vasquez said. "I went to USC. If it wasn't for study groups, I would've never graduated."

This communication with undocumented students, according to Mata, is crucial for all students. "Once you get to know an undocumented person and know their experience, it's harder to discriminate against them," Mata said. "Because them getting additional support isn't taking anything from what documented students are getting... if anything, it makes our community stronger."

But at the end of the day, Tapia-Cortez says, students should support the undocumented community in general, not just the smaller population protected by DACA. "We're people," Tapia-Cortez said. "I don't want to give this long-winded answer because we work hard, we're going to school... we're people. And we deserve to be looked after, and just like we fought for ourselves [DACA recipients], we need to fight for us. It's just common human decency."