DACA – Where Are We Now?

Equity and Diversity Action Committee Chair

Students always face challenges at the start of the fall term: what courses to take; where to find parking; how to ensure that they receive financial aid, or Board of Governors (BoG) fee waivers; or whatever else they may require to be able to balance college and life. This fall, many of our students face an additional challenge: the threat of arrest and/or deportation due to the United States’ Attorney General’s announcement of the government’s intent to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, within the next six months.

The DACA Program was created by President Barack Obama and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Department in 2012, when it became clear that Congress was not going to pass legislation regarding the issue of citizenship for childhood arrivals. In order to qualify for DACA, recipients had to have immigrated to the United States prior to turning 16 years old, could not have been convicted of a felony, and had to submit paperwork and a fee to the federal government. DACA applicants were also required to live continuously in the United States since 2007 and must be enrolled in high school, have a high school diploma or GED, or be an honorably discharged military veteran.

According to the Pew Research Center’s September 1, 2017 report, California leads the country with the most DACA recipients: as of August 31, 2017, more than 222,000 applications for DACA have been approved in California. The majority of DACA applications nationwide are from Mexico; Pew reports that the number of DACA initial applications and renewals from immigrants from Mexico equal about 78% of the total applications received.[1]  The current estimated age of the majority of DACA recipients is 25; in its 2016 study, the Brookings Institute found that the majority of DACA recipients arrived in the United States at the age of 10 or younger.[2]

Given the number of California DACA recipients and their ages, it is safe to assume that many of these young people have found their way to the California community colleges and are enrolled in courses and programs in most, if not all, of our colleges. What are our responsibilities as faculty leaders in regards to these students?  What should be happening at our colleges? What role should the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) play?  These questions, and more, have been at the forefront of discussions of the ASCCC Executive Committee, the ASCCC Equity and Diversity Action Committee, and many of our local senates. This article is the first step in trying to address some of these concerns and challenges.

One of the most important parts of understanding these challenges is the recognition that DACA is not the only program for these students.  The California Dream Act, along with AB 540 (Stats. 2001, ch. 814) and other legislation, grants students certain rights in California, separate from the federal DACA regulations.  Under AB 540, eligible students are exempt from paying non-resident enrollment fees if they meet the following criteria: a) attended a California high school for at least three years (or attained the equivalent of at least three years of credits from a California high school and attended at least three full years at a California K-12 school; b) graduated from a California high school or received a GED or passed the California High School Proficiency Exam; and c) are registered or enrolled at a California community college.  It is important to recognize that these rights are distinct from the federal rights granted under DACA, and for students to have access to information about both programs.

The ASCCC is ensuring that conversations about DACA and other changes for our students are taking place around the state. At the spring plenary session, a resolution affirming ASCCC support for DACA students was passed by the body; a second resolution will be forthcoming at the Fall 2017 plenary session. At the Civic Engagement summit, held October 5-6 at College of the Canyons, DACA was one of the main topics of conversation; the same was true at the Equity and Diversity Action Committee Regionals in late October. A breakout will be presented on the challenges of DACA at the Fall 2017 plenary session.

Yet, while these sessions are of great help and provide tremendous information to the field, not everyone can attend a plenary session. To that end, the ASCCC is compiling a collection of useful information for DACA students and the faculty who work with them.  Beginning with Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley’s statement regarding DACA and the legal opinion and guidelines issued by the Chancellor’s Office, and supplemented with the great work that colleges have been doing and are continuing to do for and with DACA and AB 540 students, all of this information will be available on the ASCCC website from the homepage for colleges to use for their own work.  This information will be frequently updated as new resources become available. Moreover, if you have suggestions for additional information to be posted, please feel free to email your suggestions to <info [at] asccc.org>.

Together, we can ensure that our students are given the opportunity to pursue their education in a safe learning environment that encourages diversity and inclusion.