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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Columns

Program that protects and supports DREAMers proves crucial


Sonny Singh/The Cougar

Back in September 2017, when the Trump administration announced its plan to rescind DACA, President and Chancellor Renu Khator issued a statement in support of recipient students at the University of Houston.

Standing as among the most diverse colleges in the nation, approximately 70 percent of our student population is comprised of Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and international students. Among these students, there are many DACA recipients and undocumented students who face unique challenges throughout their academic careers. Donald Trump’s announcement is not only a direct threat to their efforts as college students, but also to their right to live and work in this country.

There are approximately 800,000 people in the U.S. who were brought here illegally as children; under DACA they were afforded rights that allowed them to legally establish themselves. In a few weeks, when DACA expires, each following day an average of 915 Dreamers will no longer be protected from deportation.

How are they expected to uproot their lives here, when the United States is the only place they know and call home?

The office for the Urban Experience Program, or UEP, is open to all students at UH. Staff members work with students on a wide spectrum of circumstances, catering to students out of foster  care, from low-income or underrepresented groups, DACA recipients and students ready to enter the workforce after graduation.

Since the efforts to change the DACA policy began, there has been an increased effort by UEP to keep the morale of DACA students up. Charlene Laud, who is a counselor for UEP, expressed to me that there has been a noticeable drop in student GPAs. She believes that the emotional stress caused by the uncertainty of their futures in the U.S., amongst a multitude of other stressors, is contributing to this drop.

 

UEP’s work includes assisting DACA students in renewing their paperwork, scholarship assistance and peer mentoring and support. It is “dedicated to expanding opportunities for DACA and undocumented students by providing the support they need to achieve the social and economic mobility they desire.”

Going to college is difficult enough for those of us who do not know the same struggle that these students do. Many might see their drive to succeed as admirable, and understandably so, because they thrive despite a system that works against them.

However, romanticizing their plight does more harm than good, somehow making it seem acceptable and even expected that these students must jump through hoops to secure rights that are easily afforded to others.

Abraham Garcia, a math and finance junior, is a student leader working at UEP. His family came to the U.S. when he was only 3 years old, and Houston is his only home. Abraham believes it is important that students feel comfortable sharing their concerns with him in order for him to properly guide them in the right direction.

When asked how he deals with the stress of knowing his status here could change at any moment, Abraham graciously responded that it is more important to him to take advantage of the time that he still has to better himself and work towards his academic goals.

 

He wonders if anyone would notice if students are “deported,” especially at University of Houston, where he believes we are all unified.

The student population is generally accepting of DACA students, and Abraham believes that UH could be considered one of the more “DACA-friendly” schools.

But our University, like many others, is not explicit in its stance towards DACA and undocumented students.

UEP is not considered an official liaison for DACA students, and as a program established and funded by the University, it is not politically involved, nor does it have the power to advocate for change. Over time, it has developed certain programs after learning about the needs of DACA students whom they have established relationships with.

As a public university, the funds given to programs like UEP also cannot be used to do exclusive work for one particular group. This has made it difficult for the office to pursue more things that would benefit DACA students on our campus, such as offering scholarships available only to them.

UH is a partner college of TheDream.US scholarship program, which is specifically for DREAMers and students of similar immigration status. For scholarship recipients, this partly resolves the issue of financial strain, as DACA students have more limited access to scholarships and financial aid.

Considering that DACA students comprise a significant portion of our student population, it is good to see that there are efforts being made to assist them.

By investing in these students, UEP reinforces that undocumented students are an integral part of the social fabric of our campus community, as well as Houston as a whole.

There is so much more could be done on our part, though. Imagine if these students were  deported; this would change the dynamic on our campus to such a noticeable extent that it would not function the same way. This is not to say that our DACA students’ value lies in what they can contribute — that narrative is often used to defend them — but it is imperative that people are aware of the effects of this political shift.

As Abraham puts it: “The majority of us are here to be able to give back to our communities. Our goal is similar.” UEP and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, a partner of UEP, both recognize the importance of catering to the DACA students on campus. But there is only so much they can do, given that they are limited politically and not all projects are logistically feasible.

Nonetheless, the emotional and social support that UEP offers is absolutely necessary. Many of the students who work there have an emotional connection to it. This is a valuable aspect of this program, because emotional support is just as important to overcoming these obstacles.

They have goals to help empower the youth, and coming from disadvantaged backgrounds means that they use every opportunity and skill they have to reach these goals. This is a lot more than anyone can say for those of us who take things for granted.

Sarah Tawashy is a human nutrition and foods sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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