The Student Community of Progressive Empowerment sponsored a virtual event Tuesday evening connecting students who support immigrants’ rights, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients and undocumented students at the University of Michigan.
Students formed SCOPE in 2016 after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol visited the U-M campus at a career fair. SCOPE members said the agency’s visit created an unsafe, anxious environment on campus.
SCOPE seeks to support DACA beneficiaries and other undocumented students, who face limited rights and the risk of deportation. Members of SCOPE described the organization as a family and a safe space while sharing personal experiences at the meeting.
“I still hear the stories of the things that my father lived through to get through this to get to this country, and how he was able to gain residency through the Reagan Administration,” said Hector Galvan, program manager at the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives and SCOPE member. “That was transformative for our lives because half of my siblings were born in Mexico and half of us were born in the U.S.”
During the event, SCOPE members spoke about the difficulties of being undocumented, including not being eligible to have a social security number, appear on a payroll, own a bank account or apply for a driver’s license.
Since its founding, SCOPE’s members have faced continued uncertainty. President Trump moved to rescind DACA in 2017 and his administration has withdrawn or weakened many Obama-era protections. Beneficiaries must renew DACA status every year, instead of every three years. It costs $495 to renew DACA.
Requests to travel to other countries for emergency reasons such as visiting family members, known as advanced parole, have been revoked. The current administration closed DACA to new applicants, and now it protects only those who have been grandfathered in.
Rackham student Ivana Lopez-Espinosa, a member of SCOPE, said the risks to undocumented people and DACA recipients predate the Trump administration.
“The current political environment isn’t threatening our lives. This isn’t new, it has been happening since 2016 and even before that,” Lopez-Espinosa said. “The Obama administration was not nice to immigrants. There were mass deportations under Obama like right now with Trump.”
In 2019, SCOPE organized a rally for undocumented students and DACA recipients with a large turnout. They demanded the University address issues related to meeting financial need, fair opportunities for jobs, housing and appointment of primary contacts.
Though the University did not meet all of the demands, it resulted in the creation of two part-time positions at the University aimed at supporting students who are undocumented or receive DACA. LSA senior Sandra Perez, a member of SCOPE who is also a DACA beneficiary, said solely student activism has pushed the University to make the campus more welcoming.
“It’s always student activism at the root of change — like we don’t see active effort from the University to say, ‘Hey we support undocumented students and we’re the ones who are going to create the website, we’re the ones who are going to meet your demands,’” Perez said. “It’s always the students pushing for the change. I don’t appreciate that.”
SCOPE created a website that helped prospective undocumented students navigate the admission process and the financial aid process. Under previous University policy, undocumented students who enrolled at the University more than 28 months after graduating high school or obtaining a GED certificate were classified as international students, even if they had lived most of their life in Michigan.
When advocating for this policy to be revised, SCOPE students argued that this policy created financial barriers for undocumented students, especially those that tried to transfer to the University from community college. SCOPE students also said the appeals process for in-state tuition lacked transparency, as they said it was unclear why some students were granted in-state status while others weren’t.
After SCOPE’s activism, the University extended the time limit to apply for in-state tuition from 28 months after graduating high school to 40 months in July 2019. Even though the policy was revised, one of the students who advocated for the policy change could not retroactively change his status to in-state.
At Tuesday’s event, members of SCOPE such as Business junior Alex Jimenez said they’d like to see the University continue to revise the in-state tuition policy. He said some of his undocumented friends who transfer to the University are still considered international students.
“To me, probably the most critical policy that needs to be changed right now is that I had friends who ended up not being able to continue their education at U of M because they wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Jimenez said. “I think that’s a really big failure of the University itself.”
Jimenez also said there should be a “Dream Center” — a center dedicated to helping and offering support for undocumented students and DACA recipients. Rackham student Joanna Dimas said she’d like to see a scholarship specifically for undocumented and DACA students.
“These are all tangible things that can be done from the administrative and institutional leaders,” Dimas said. “I just don’t know if that’s their priority right now with everything going on, but it should be a priority.”
Daily News Contributor Jared Dougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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