“I grew up here,” said Araksya Nordikyan, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and student at USC. “I don’t know a home besides California. Our parents took a good-willed intention and a risk, and we can’t be blamed for it, because we were so young. It’s really unsettling because if I’m not allowed to call this place my home, and my home is also not where I’m from, then what is home? Where do we belong?”
Nordikyan, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, is one of the dozens of DACA students at USC. She said she doesn’t remember much about coming to the United States.
She emigrated from Armenia with her parents when she was just 4 years old, and hasn’t been back since.
Nordikyan didn’t know her immigration status until her senior year of high school. When she tried to apply for financial aid to pay for college, she realized she didn’t qualify because she isn’t a citizen of the United States.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
DACA is an Obama-era policy that grants work permits and deportation relief for two-year renewal periods for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.
Now, DACA recipients at USC are facing uncertainty about the security of the program — President Donald Trump issued an order on Sept. 5 last year that would have terminated the DACA program on Monday.
However, federal district courts in Brooklyn and San Francisco filed injunctions against the order, and the Supreme Court declined Trump’s attempt to bypass appeals courts and reverse the injunction decision at the Supreme Court.
“The uncertainty scares me — I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Nordikyan said. “What if [Trump] cancels the program completely? What happens next? I have no clue.”
Provost Michael Quick sent out a memo Monday encouraging students and staff who are DACA recipients to seek legal advice in light of increased uncertainty about the program’s continued existence.
“While the more immediate threats to those in our community with DACA status are at least temporarily removed, we know this also prolongs the fear and ambiguity,” Quick said in his memo.
USC President C. L. Max Nikias said he is worried about the uncertainty that Trump has created regarding DACA’s status.
He estimates that there are at least 70 to 100 DACA recipients currently attending USC.
“[It] creates a lot of anxiety for these kids,” Nikias said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “It may prevent them from concentrating on their studies.”
Nikias said he identifies with students struggling with immigration issues.
He came to the United States to pursue his master’s degree and subsequent Ph.D. at the State University of New York Buffalo, and he and his wife, Niki, had to go through a complex naturalization process to become American citizens.
“We came to the United States a long time ago as international students to pursue the dream, for better lives, for better education,” Nikias said. “I can sympathize with the anxiety and uncertainty of an immigration status, but also I can see the benefits of education, that anyone who gets a USC degree and stays here and pursues a career, they are going to be very productive citizens of our society.”
Yaneiry Barrios, a senior studying contemporary Latino and Latin American studies and social sciences (psychology) immigrated to the United States from Guatemala when she was just a year old.
“It was very hard because [my mother] migrated by herself with her one-year-old on her back,” Barrios said.
Barrios said she grew up with a vague understanding that she was undocumented, but didn’t fully understand it until she tried to apply to a study abroad program in France at her high school. At that point, she realized she couldn’t because of her immigration status.
Barrios said she was one of the first to apply for DACA when President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012.
“It felt good,” Barrios said. “I was the first one in my family who was able to get an actual driver’s license, and understanding that I was granted an opportunity to be legal here, even though it wasn’t [citizenship], but have the reassurance that I can stay here.”
But that began to change after Trump was elected to office and began to make changes to U.S. immigration policy.
“My DACA expires toward the end of September,” Barrios said. “Right now, with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, I don’t know if I’m going to lose my DACA, or if I’m going to be able to reapply … What scares me is that if they remove DACA completely and get rid of it, what’s going to happen when I graduate?”
THE RIGHT RESOURCES
The University has set in place various initiatives to provide resources for DACA students, staff and faculty. Associate Dean of Religious Life Vanessa Gomez-Brake was appointed the central contact person to coordinate support for DACA students across campus, the Gould School of Law is hosting immigration clinics, and counseling services available to DACA students, Nikias said.
“I have the opportunity as a religious leader and a chaplain to offer confidential counsel, which means anyone who walks through this door is able to feel and trust that I can keep anything they share with me confidential,” Gomez-Brake said. “As you can imagine, for those who are undocumented or even DACAmented, that is something that is very cherished, because that is something you can’t talk about with just anyone.”
In terms of legal resources, the Gould Immigration Clinic’s Legal Advice Project provides assistance to USC community members — including students, staff, faculty and their family members — through legal consultation and advice, and by helping to fill out DACA renewal applications.
“We’re helping DACAmented students to renew their DACA applications,” Immigration Clinic Director Niels Frenzen said. “We’re giving them individual consultations to determine whether or not they are eligible for anything else — is there something in their personal history that might allow them to pursue legal status that they didn’t know about before?”
Barrios went to the immigration clinic to talk about her application with experts.
“They told me what I could do, the next steps I should be [taking],” Barrios said. “I took what they told me and talked to my lawyer back home and see what she thought, and got her opinion as well, so I was able to get two sources.”
The University is also reimbursing students for the $495 renewal fee for DACA, with funds from the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments and the Provost’s Office, according to Frenzen.
Gomez-Brake said those funds will be disbursed through her and the Office of Religious Life.
The University has also appointed Assistant Director of Crisis Services Beth Kebschull as the Engemann Student Health Center point of contact for DACA students, and Engemann will provide counseling services for students experiencing anxiety due to uncertainty about DACA, according to the Provost’s memo.
At the same time, however, some students expressed concerns about the completeness of the University’s commitment to its DACA students and workers.
Improving Dreams, Education, Access and Success, a student organization created to empower undocumented students, held a workshop for DACA recipients on Tuesday.
At the meeting, attendees discussed whether the University would continue to support them after they graduate, whether the University has a plan in place to support students if DACA is repealed in the near future and whether the University will continue to employ staff members who would no longer be authorized to work if their DACA work permits are invalidated.
“After graduation, will USC just forget about us or would they still look out for us?” Valeria Resendiz, the co-executive chair of IDEAS, said. “There’s so much uncertainty surrounding DACA, we want to know that the school will keep us here, will support our education.”
Barrios also said that she wants to see the University expand the pop-up DREAMer resource center that IDEAS and the American Studies and Ethnicity department created in 2017.
The center’s name refers to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would have allowed young undocumented immigrants to become permanent residents had it passed through Congress.
“The University should make the DREAMer Center something more official, and something that should be running continuously, because there are still students at the University who have not come out as undocumented,” Barrios said. “It should have a space for all undocumented students to study and get to know each other, because we have [Asian Pacific American Student Services], El Centro, Norman Topping, the Lavender Lounge, so if we have spaces for those groups, we should also have spaces for undocumented students.”
Resendiz said that while the center is still open, it lacks the resources it needs to run efficiently.
Along with the on-campus resources provided, Nikias has been working to lobby the U.S. government to develop a permanent solution with a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
“We have an Office of Federal Relations in Washington, and when I go to Washington, and actually go with a delegation of trustees, we meet with members of Congress … [on] both sides of the aisle, where we actively lobby on this issue,” Nikias said.
Nikias has also made his case to the media — he’s done interviews with CNBC and the Washington Post and published an op-ed in The Hill last month calling for a bipartisan presidential commission on immigration.
“For so long, this has been a political issue without a face,” Gomez-Brake said. “It’s really important for us to remember that these are our fellow students, our fellow humans, they are like anyone else on campus, and they have the same needs.”