Rodríguez: Undocumented students deserve a chance at their dreams
San Jose students and community members hosted a walkout in November 2019 at Hillside Park to support DACA and TPS recipients on the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue. File photo.

    As the higher education system that enrolls the largest number of undocumented students in the United States, California Community Colleges are instrumental in ensuring every student, regardless of their citizenship status, has the opportunity to pursue their career and professional goals free from institutional barriers and discrimination.

    Undocumented Student Action Week is a joint effort originally led by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Board of Governors, Foundation for California Community Colleges, and Community College League of California, in partnership with many statewide advocacy organizations and individual community college campuses. Now in its sixth year, the action week is an annual effort designed to engage and activate students, employees and the public to support the needs of undocumented students enrolled in community colleges throughout the state.

    California is home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, approximately 75,000 of whom currently attend college. These students are vital to the future of our state and our workforce, as we face a shortage of as many as 1.5 million skilled workers by 2030.

    Without undocumented Californians, that gap would widen and our state and regional economies would suffer. Supporting undocumented students advances California’s values while simultaneously growing the economy.

    Undocumented Student Action Week began in 2016 in response to the threatened end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The effort has now become a permanent celebration to build greater awareness of and support for policies that support undocumented student success. This year, the week-long event ended on Oct. 20.

    While considering how policy decisions impact undocumented students, we must also be mindful of the rising uncertainty surrounding DACA. A 2021 U.S. district court ruling in Texas held that DACA is unlawful, and while the decision has been appealed, recent court proceedings indicate the ruling will likely be upheld.

    The Texas v. United States decision is a clear reminder that DACA will remain in question until a permanent solution is in place. This ruling has created an additional layer of uncertainty and concern for undocumented students and illustrates precisely why federal advocacy must be a priority.

    Despite demonstrating significant benefits to our local, state and federal communities, the recent decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is a stark reminder that DACA is still a temporary solution and does not grant legal status to undocumented students. As they complete their degrees and seek to build careers, students deserve stability.

    Immigrants are the fabric of our community and deserve a fair and equitable opportunity to follow their dreams. They are aspiring medical professionals, lawmakers, community leaders, engineers, teachers, scientists and entrepreneurs. They are crucial to our state and nation’s economic prosperity and growth.

    In this regard, community colleges and advocates of undocumented students call on our federal leaders to take immediate action to pass H.R. 6 (The Dream and Promise Act), which would codify a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented students. The bill would create a “conditional permanent resident” status valid for up to 10 years to protect undocumented students from deportation and establish work authorization.

    The bill would also incentivize participation in higher education by enabling persons with conditional permanent resident status to become lawful permanent residents if they obtain an associate degree or complete at least two years of a bachelor’s or higher degree program in the U.S.

    We also urge Congress to pass H.R. 8872 (Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now Act), which would end the longstanding exclusion of federal financial aid eligibility for DACA students. Ensuring DACA students have access to the Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study and federal student loans will help them meet their basic needs and afford the total cost of attendance, increasing their chances of reaching their education and career goals.

    While undocumented students face many challenges in their quest for a college education and career, our system can and should ensure safe learning environments for students by dismantling policy and institutional barriers.

    San José Spotlight columnist Raúl Rodríguez is Interim Chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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