EDINBURG — With much still left up in the air for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival permits, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is trying to reassure students of its commitment to educate every student regardless of immigration status.
“With the DACA students we are very concerned and very supportive,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “We are hoping Congress is going to come through and put into law what was only a presidential order… that would actually be a better outcome. Right now I don’t have any clue how likely that is.”
This week’s White House decision to phase out the DACA program — a two-year protection from deportation that also provides work permits for undocumented people brought into the country as children — and give Congress six months to come up with an alternative solution, has left the nearly 800,000 individuals in the program and many hopefuls wondering what will happen to their immigration status in the United States.
UTRGV has nearly 28,000 students, out of which about 900 are undocumented, and university officials have been working to provide some sort of guidance and support in the midst of uncertainty.
Kristin Croyle, UTRGV vice president for student success, said it’s a peculiar situation in which they have to be ready to support students going through immigration-related stress by providing resources such as counseling, legitimate resources and even connecting them to outside sources of financial support.
“They are prepared to support students who are in emotional distress through our Counseling Center if they want confidential support,” Croyle said. “They are also prepared to answer basic questions about DACA in their situation as students and also connect them to reliable sources of information.”
As of this week, no new DACA applications are being accepted, but those with an active permit have a chance to apply for renewal by Oct. 5, 2017. And while many of these applicants might highly depend on the permit to maintain current jobs or other responsibilities, Croyle said they are cognizant that the $465 fee might be a financial barrier keeping them from renewing.
Just like some students might need financial help for food, housing or other pressing needs that might keep them from attending college, Croyle said the university recognizes the financial burden of having to renew such permits.
“Not a lot of students have $500 in their pockets ready to pay in the next few weeks,” she said. “If their finances are really a barrier to meeting their educational goals we always try and help them, so if finances are a barrier to renewing then we’ll also try to connect them with resources.”
Some of these outside resources are private donors who have expressed their willingness to help out students in many economic stresses including this one, she explained.
Other than speculations about what Congress might do with the program, there isn’t much information about its fate, which can cause high levels of panic and uncertainty for some who have families, jobs, and other responsibilities on the line.
To try to bring in resources to these students, the university will be partnering with local organizations such as LUPE — La Union del Pueblo Entero — to conduct informational sessions that could save students from falling prey to false or wrong information.
This week two sessions will be offered, one on Tuesday, Sept. 12, in Brownsville’s BSABH building room 2.110A and then on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Edinburg’s ELABN building room 101 both starting at 6 p.m. Both sessions are open to the general public.
Part of being prepared for situations like this, Croyle said, is by simply continuing a commitment made to the region and all of its students from the get go.
“We support education in the Valley, it doesn’t matter what people’s citizenship is, where they were born, whether they are documented or not, we support students in meeting their educational goals,” she said. “Once they are with us, they are with us.”
When it comes to protecting student’s information, Bailey said that under FERPA – Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – no personal information is shared to outside agencies or individuals unless requested by law.
Students can also withhold specific information by notifying the university in writing. A form used to withhold such information can be found at UTRGV’s Student Confidentiality page.
Even with things up in the air, Bailey said that the goal is to keep UTRGV as a safe space for all students regardless of immigration status.
“Our focus is on you and your education,” Bailey said as a message to students. “The law protects you right now and we’ll be working with Congress as with all other universities in the state and try to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”
This post has been updated to correct the deadline to renew for DACA applicants with an active permit.