Future remains uncertain for undocumented students in Trump era
All three University of Michigan students mentioned in this article requested anonymity due to concern for their own safety and the safety of their family. The country of origin of one of the students is also withheld out of the same concern.
All under the age of 5 when they left, memories of home remain vague for three University of Michigan students since arriving in the United States on now-expired visas. Though protected now under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, uncertainty for the future under the Trump administration looms.
The students went without legal protection until former President Barack Obama signed the DACA executive action in the summer of 2012. While the action does not grant a pathway to citizenship for recipients — who are often referred to as “Dreamers” — it provides the ability to work and deportation release.
One of the requirements to qualify for DACA includes arrival in the United States before the age of 16. For one female LSA junior, though her family avoids the topic of their citizenship, she still remembers arriving in the United States.
“I arrived when I was four and a half years old from (a South American country),” she said. “I don’t remember much other than saying goodbye to family members and … arriving in Florida. We all left on visas. This is what makes it hard because it’s something that my parents don’t like talking about a lot, and so … I never know exactly how things are, like really are. Like how did we get here, what did they do to get here. Then again, they didn’t tell me until I was in seventh grade.”
It wasn’t until fifth grade, when he started asking questions, that another LSA junior learned of about his immigration status. His family arriving to Detroit from Mexico on a visa when he was 4 years old, immigration and their status did not become an issue until later in his life.
“Around when I was 11 or 12, that’s when we started having more and more anti-immigrant sentiment,” he said. “We started seeing it, both in politics and in life. Especially around the time when the economy started going down.”
As these students grew older, enrolling in college became an issue. This was before the University of Michigan decided to allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. For one Rackham student who attended college in Oregon before 2012, applying to college was a challenge before the state of Oregon passed a law in 2013 to allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition under certain conditions.
“Back then when I was going to college, there was no in-state tuition policy, so the only schools that I could apply and even be granted in were private schools,” she said. “On paper, I was a really good student and I was a qualified person to go to college, but given my status, I applied to 15 schools and was rejected to 14 of them because they said, ‘Hey you’re a great student but when you can get this situation figured out, give us a call.’ ”
Despite being accepted to one of the schools she applied to, the tuition of a private school was still more than she could afford. As an undocumented student, she could not qualify for any loans or federal aid.
“Luckily that with private institutions … they can give you personal grants, so they are able to fund you (through means) not tied to things like FAFSA or Federal Financial Aid,” she said. This allowed her to qualify for merit-based aid.
The male LSA junior from Mexico, he graduated from high school in 2013, the same year that the University of Michigan changed its tuition policy for undocumented students, so he was not yet eligible for in-state tuition when he needed to apply to the university. Due to this cost barrier, he spent three years at a community college, and still faced challenges qualifying for in-state tuition when he transferred to the University.
Undocumented students, including those protected by DACA, can only qualify for in-state tuition for up to 28 months after graduating high school, according to the University’s in-state tuition policy. Under that rule, he didn’t qualify for in-state tuition.
“I had to jump through a lot of hoops trying to get that sorted out because nobody on the paid staff knew what to do,” he said. “Not (a lot) of people know that that’s an issue. I know a lot of other undocumented undergraduate students who have gone through that, and not just undergraduate, graduate students as well.”
In-state tuition for undocumented immigrants varies from state to state; in Michian, the University is the only in the state that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 66 percent of approximately 1.9 million eligible undocumented immigrants have applied to and received the benefits DACA has to offer.
Still, despite what DACA can do for undocumented individuals, it is not a legal immigration status. DACA only grants temporary legal presence and the ability to work. While there is a path for some DACA recipients to receive a green card, there is not a clear pathway for many to achieve citizenship.
“This whole concept of ‘go back and do it the right way,’ don’t you think if that was the case we would’ve done it the right way the first time?” the undocumented Rackham student said.
“I can speak with confidence that a lot of people have been brought here as children and only know the United States as their home … they would love to be citizens,” the male LSA Junior added.
Living without citizenship stokes fear and uncertainty for students and mixed-status communities, or even communities where both documented and undocumented peoples live — some as nearby as Ypsilanti. Even though DACA recipients receive deportation relief, in most cases their parents are still vulnerable.
“Every morning you wake up, like not knowing, especially now, knowing whether or not my parents will get in trouble at work or something, especially now given that there have been a couple ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids in east Michigan,” she said. “That’s always been kind of scary. It’s one of those things where you still are always worried whether you come home or you get a call saying this happened. You never know.”
ICE is the law enforcement agency that enforces federal laws regarding immigration, trade and border control. ICE has become known for conducting raids on homes and place of residence of undocumented citizens and mass deportations
These raids have proven to bear considerable effects on communities and individuals alike, a phenomenon studied by William Lopez, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Social Work. Lopez’s work has examined how communities respond to ICE raids, specifically researching the effects of an ICE raid that took place in 2013 in Ann Arbor.
“So you have the individual trauma of being in this raided building in a situation where you’re wondering if you’re going to live to see the next day,” he said. “Two people said, ‘I didn’t know if I was going to get shot.’ And then in the community level, there’s this enormous, just fear of police as folks are reminded of this tenuous hold they have on their lives in the U.S. One day you’re here, the next day you could be removed.”
The trauma of ICE raids is amplified when a child’s parents or caregivers are deported, Lopez said. This can have many adverse effects on children, depending on the situation the child is left in.
“You get this question often; it kind of feels like the question is going towards, like do kids get depressed or have anxiety or have (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Lopez said. “So the answer I usually say is, probably.”
In many situations, single caregivers often have to prioritize children going to school or feeding them instead of taking them to see a counselor to treat the trauma.
“Do these mothers want to take their children to a counselor to get a diagnosis of mental health or are they trying to get them to school every day, are they trying to feed them, are they going to their lawyers?” Lopez said.
Fear of police, especially in collaborative raids in which ICE works with local police departments in deportation raids, leaves lasting marks on a community.
“You come in for graduation and your parents get a parking ticket — it’s not a big deal,” Lopez said. “But for many of these folks that are worried about ‘If my mom’s going to come for graduation and there’s a security guard, is the security guard going to ask for a license if she double parks? Is that going to be the end?’ ”
Undocumented immigrants are left without driver’s licenses issued by the United States, which forces them to drive illegally, if they choose to drive at all.
“I know my parents, they don’t drive with licenses and stuff like that," the female LSA junior said. "There’s a reason why they’re really good drivers.”
In attempt to protect undocumented immigrants within their jurisdictions, many cities have declared sanctuary status. Still, no real definition of a sanctuary city exists. Law Prof. Margo Schlanger, an expert on civil rights issues, said no expert can determine exactly what a sanctuary city is.
“I don’t know what a sanctuary city is and neither does anybody else,” Schlanger said. “It is a phrase that some places have used, it’s not a phrase that we’ve used.”
To begin to define what a sanctuary city is, experts have looked to an executive action signed by President Donald Trump, which threatens to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities.
“The president recently released an executive order, which says that sanctuary jurisdictions will have some repercussions in terms of federal funding and seems to define a sanctuary jurisdiction as a jurisdiction meaning a state, or a unit of a state, which includes us,” Schlanger said. “And so it seems to define a sanctuary jurisdiction to be that: a jurisdiction that is violation of 8 USC 1373.”
The University has not used this term to define recent action or campus jurisdiction, but University President Mark Schlissel has affirmed the University will not share information regarding the immigration status of students. The Ann Arbor city council is currently discussing an ordinance that would prohibit police from soliticing immigration status. Councilmember Jack Eaton (D-Ward 4) said the Council has refrained from using the term "sanctuary city," in any of its ordinance because of its lack of legimate legal defintion.
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I-Ward 2) has pushed back against the new proposed ordinance fearful of the effects it could have on Ann Arbor's federal funding.
“So the University has been really clear that unless they are legally compelled to do so, they’re not going to share information about people’s immigration status, and even if they are legally compelled to do it, since they mostly don’t collect it, they don’t have it to share,” Schlanger said.
For now, it remains to be seen whether the threats of funding cuts from Trump, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security will materialize into anything more than threats. Schlanger noted outcomes depend on a number of factors.
“They haven’t defined sanctuary jurisdiction, they haven’t specified what the funding streams are, they haven’t described the mechanism, they haven’t given anybody notice about what any of that would mean, and if they don’t do all of those things, it will be illegal for them to withhold funding on the basis of it,” Schlanger said. “Once they do all of that stuff, then it might or might not be illegal, depending on the content of all of the answers to all of those questions.”
The new administration has many immigrants, documented or not, wondering what will happen today, tomorrow or a week from now. Though Trump has said deporting anyone here illegally is a priority, any difference from Obama regarding the number of people deported remains to be told.
Under Obama, roughly 2.7 million undocumented immigrants were deported, more than any other president to date.
“Under Obama, it was terrible,” Lopez said. “Under Trump, so we don’t know that the actual number of people deported is more yet, we can’t tell, but I would absolutely say that the rhetoric is far more frightening.”
While Trump declared he is prioritizing deportations, it remains uncertain whether he will repeal DACA specifically, although one point in his plan for the first 100 days reads, “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.”
“If DACA gets taken away, that again puts us in a situation where we can’t work, we can’t drive, we can’t board a plane, we don’t have any way to identify ourselves so think of anything that you have that is tied to your ID, like going out and opening a bank account or buying liquor or tobacco,” the undocumented Rackham student said.
According to a 2014 estimation by the Pew Research Center, there are 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, about 3.5 percent of the country’s population.
“We’re everywhere,” the female LSA junior said. “We’re your neighbors, we’re your classmates, we’re your students, we are everywhere. People just don’t realize that it literally could be anyone that is dealing with this.”