July 26, 2017

Support for DACA Students Through Uncertainty

Multicultural Initiatives Office. Photo by Liam Adams

by Jonathan Chandra ’19

Staff Writer

In a recent interview with the Tartan, Yicaury Melo was brought to tears.

“They’re my babies,” she said, pausing to collect herself before she continued.

“It’s just really hard. I was just very hopeful when the program was released and then like this happened. It’s like the rug’s pulled out of them. And a lot of people feel almost betrayed. They’re afraid their information’s going to be released, because it’s in federal possession. I want to protect them and I’m not sure exactly how to do it.”

Melo, Gordon’s Multicultural Initiative Student Services Coordinator, was speaking about her role in taking care of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students at Gordon.

DACA was an immigration policy instated under the Obama administration to protect undocumented youth who had come to the U.S. as children. It began receiving and reviewing applications on August 15, 2012. The program provides its recipients a renewable two-year period of eligibility for a work permit and of deferred action from deportation.

Under the current presidential administration, however, responses to DACA have been mixed. In recent months, President Trump has expressed a seemingly more temperate outlook on DACA, saying on Feb. 16 that his administration would show “great heart” on the issue. This follows a  campaign with a sizeable anti-immigration platform that included the claim that he would “immediately terminate” DACA when president.

It is in this atmosphere that Melo worries about the students under her care and their families. However, her experience with DACA dates back to 2014, when she interviewed one of Gordon’s first DACA students, Danny Machado ‘18.

“During Danny’s interview, admissions interview, he brought DACA to light to me. And I had heard about the program, but I didn’t know about the name or the vocabulary of the program. So Danny did a great job in educating me about the program.”

Having learned about DACA, Melo and others approached administration about providing support for DACA students. Within months, a framework for accommodating DACA students was put in place.

Years before coming to Gordon, Machado came to Massachusetts with his family at age nine , all of them on six-month tourist visas. They remained illegally in-country since then. Through marriage and association, all of Machado’s family except for himself are now permanent residents.

Though DACA was announced in 2012, Machado did not apply for DACA status until 2014, when enough money had been saved to pay for the application.

“This is enough where I can practically live and not be paranoid about being deported because that is the biggest fear for that every undocumented immigrant has to deal with, every DACA. Not only does it help me for these things, it defers any action taken by Homeland Security. It basically immunes me from deportation unless I do some criminal activity.”

Though there are freedoms that come with DACA status, there are limitations as well. Machado is only able to travel outside the U.S. for work, family or school-related issues. He is not allowed to travel for tourism.

Machado related how he had applied to travel to Brazil, paying $300 for the application, to visit his grandmother. The application was denied by the Department of Homeland Security. Machado said, “The letter [from Homeland Security] says it’s not an urgent thing so we don’t deem it necessary [for you] to leave the country, basically. Unless she is like urgently about to die anytime soon. Even though my grandmother is dying.”

Under the current administration, Machado is wary about his legal status. He applied for renewal six months in advance, concerned for the potential repealing of DACA. His renewal was granted ten days after President Trump’s inauguration.

Machado intends to apply for U.S. citizenship within the next two years.  Machado’s plan is to gain serious employment and be sponsored for citizenship through it.

A DACA student who opted to remain anonymous also agreed to speak to the Tartan. Like Machado, student’s family came to the United States on a tourist visa at age 10. They left their country because their bakery had been robbed 14 times in a year, and thieves had threatened the family.

Having lived in the Boston area for some years, the student’s life was changed in eighth grade, when DACA was passed.

“It’s made such a big difference. Not only with a job, but also with driver’s licenses, which I know seems like a simple thing, but it really I mean, driving to get places is a really big deal, it’s almost necessary in this time that we live in. So that was huge as well. And social security so you can do work, and all of that stuff.”

Although the student believes that “the two best words to describe the [current political] atmosphere is tension and uncertainty,” faith has become a personal source of hope.

“I believe God has me here for a reason and I believe his timing’s going to work out. And i think if he wants me here he’s going to keep me here. Even through, whatever means he wishes to use. If he has me here I think it’s for a reason, and if it’s time for me to go it’s time for me to go.”

Machado and the interviewed student are not the only DACA students on campus. Melo confirmed that there are at least seven DACA students on campus that she has connections with. There may be more, but since DACA identity is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Melo does not have access to legal status information unless it is shared to her by individual students.

In terms of financial aid, DACA students are seen as international students, awarded need-based aid as well as merit scholarships. “Hearing from our students that Gordon offered them the best package, even better than public universities, definitely showed the support Gordon has for this program,” said Melo.

Though the DACA community at Gordon may be small in size, the college has worked to raise awareness and appreciation for their situation. On Feb. 20, a panel event titled “For You Yourselves were Foreigners in Egypt” was held so faculty could advocate for immigrants and DACA students on theological, philosophical and political planes. On Feb. 28, a session was held by Gordon College Student Association (GCSA) in partnership with Agencia Alpha, a local nonprofit association dedicated to counseling and empowering Hispanic immigrant communities.

Rachel Henderson, Assistant Director of Admissions, focuses on international and multicultural recruitment. DACA falls under jurisdiction and she believes that Gordon is “beyond many institutions” when it comes to accommodation and advocacy.

“I think a lot of people want to know, but I would love in a perfect world for every resident director, every admissions officer, SFS member, anyone in student life, athletics, to be required to be trained on basic DACA and undocumented students. And I think that’s happening. Little by little that’s the direction the college is going,” said Henderson.

“We knew that we had DACA and undocumented students at Gordon. We had to come up with a policy and a program to be able to let students know what Gordon would do for them during a time when the were feeling really unsafe. That’s where I started some conversations with administration as well as people, and they actually encouraged me to work with Yicaury to put together a proposal for what we could do, to put out some kind of statement,” she continued.

On an email sent to the student body on Martin Luther King Day, President D. Michael Lindsay described DACA students as individuals who “contribute to our student body, to the greater church, and to the world.”

“We were very happy that administration adapted a lot of our suggestions,” said Melo in response to Lindsay’s message.]
“We have received tremendous support from administration, with President Lindsay supporting our statement about what the climate is and what the college should do about DACA students, we’ve also received support from Nick Rowe within student life making sure that we are offering the correct training for staff and faculty,” she added.

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