University administration is not being supportive, DACA students say


A poster hangs outside the pavilion at Gaia House on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, during a vigil held for DACA students. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Marnie Leonard

The university administration says it will do what it can to help undocumented immigrants on campus affected by President Trump’s decision to end a program that shielded them from deportation, but some students say they have seen no sign of support.

There are 24 undergraduate and two graduate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients on campus, according to university officials. SIU spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said the Division of Student Affairs and Lori Stettler, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, are handling the effort to contact students.

Stettler said the university began reaching out to students in the DACA program individually on Tuesday, but for some the pace has not been fast enough.


DACA beneficiary Oneida Vargas, a junior from Chicago studying political science, said Thursday that she and eight other DACA students she knows on campus received the same mass email as everyone else and have not been contacted further.

“I think it’s just that the university plainly does not really stand with undocumented and DACA students the way they say they do,” said Vargas, who was brought into the U.S. from Mexico by her mother when she was one year old.

In an email sent Tuesday to the campus community, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said SIU will provide support by reaching out to DACA students and protecting their rights “under applicable statutes and regulations.”

Vargas said the lack of support goes back to when the university announced in January it would not adopt a sanctuary campus designation. At the time, System President Randy Dunn said the designation suggested SIU would be willing to violate the law, which could put it at risk for losing federal financial aid.

Now that supporters of DACA are creating a nationwide push to support the program’s beneficiaries, Vargas said she thinks the administration felt pressured into making a statement.

“This way they can’t say they haven’t done anything,” Vargas said. “But at the same time, people who are against supporting DACA can’t say that they’ve given us too much.”

DACA student Martha Osornio, a senior studying cinema and photography from Chicago, said she also has not yet been contacted by administration regarding Trump’s decision.

“Let’s say we give them a week at the most so they can get their thoughts together,” Osornio said. “I understand the amount of information they’re trying to gather but it’s just like, how long is that going to take?”

Osornio, who was brought into the U.S. from Mexico at age two, said the chancellor should have included in the email when students could expect to be contacted so they wouldn’t have to guess.


“At least we would know then that there’s a concrete goal of what we’re going to be doing,” she said.  

Stettler said the university is in the process of reaching out. 

“We’re working down through the list,” Stettler said.  “Some we’ve contacted, some we haven’t. We’re continuing to do that until we have the opportunity to talk to every student and see how they’re doing and if they need anything.”

By Thursday afternoon, Vargas, Osornio and two other DACA students on campus, Jonathan Ramirez and Juan Barboza, said they had not received word from administration beyond the chancellor’s campus-wide email.

Stettler said an emergency meeting was held Tuesday through the Student Multicultural Resource Center to answer any questions students may have about DACA. The meeting was open to all students.

Vargas said she thinks the meeting was held because Hispanic/Latino Resource Center Coordinator René Poitevin felt it was necessary.  During it, Vargas said representatives from Registered Student Organizations on campus tried to brainstorm ways they could show support for DACA students as well.

“Everything is so new and unfolding at this point that we’re just trying to keep up with what’s going on and making sure we’re there for students and answering their questions and pointing them in the right direction as to where the resources exist,” Stettler said.

Vargas said the best thing the university could do for DACA students would be to provide someone to act as a liaison to point them toward resources like mental health and financial counseling.

“How about saying, ‘Here’s a counseling service if you guys need to talk to somebody’?” Vargas said. “This takes a huge toll on our mental health — it is ridiculous the amount of paranoia that I feel, the fear, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.”

DACA students are ineligible for federal financial aid, loans or grants, leading many to struggle to find the funds to pay for their schooling, Vargas said. She added that the university could help students find resources and scholarships available for undocumented students.

“There are a lot of college students who work 20 hours on campus and get a Link card with $200 on it, but we can’t do that,” Vargas said. “We can’t get health insurance unless it’s through the university either — there’s just so much that we can’t get and people think, ‘Oh, we’re giving these people all these resources,’ but really we’re paying for something and we have to beg to get any type of protection in exchange.”

During a Tuesday night rally at Gaia House hosted by the Southern Illinois Immigrants Rights Project, many DACA students on campus met each other for the first time.

“I moved to SIU and I was like, ‘Where are they? Wait a minute, so there aren’t any?’” Osornio said. “That’s when I would get so frustrated — I was just like, man, I am like the only one here.”

Juan Barboza, a sophomore from Nashville studying information systems and technology, said he feels most supported by his fellow DACA students.

“I feel stronger,” said Barboza, who was brought to the country at age three from Costa Rica. “I felt singular, and now we’re all together and we can work together and work harder.”  

Osornio said although these weren’t ideal circumstances for her to meet her fellow undocumented students on campus, she appreciates knowing she isn’t alone.

“It’s like when you never see anybody but then a funeral comes around and everyone gets together,” Osornio said. “It’s like, oh my god, these are the worst circumstances to see each other, but it took something bad happening to really push us out of our comfort zones and meet each other.”

Though some undocumented students have grown used to speaking to media outlets and publicly identifying themselves as DACA recipients, Vargas said others on campus might still feel unsafe doing so.

“I feel like we’re targets,” Vargas said. “I think some of them are not as comfortable with being so open about putting their identity out there — I think they’re afraid of what the backlash might be.”

DACA student Jonathan Ramirez, a senior studying industrial management from Chicago, said it’s important to make themselves known.

“We’re here and we’re going to remind you,” Ramirez said. “I feel like to prove ourselves in every sense, because we have to prove that we’re worth it.”

Barboza agreed, and added that he often feels exhausted from having to explain his status to people who don’t fully understand life as an undocumented immigrant.

“People don’t understand what it took to get here,” Barboza said. “They just simply can’t relate to the struggles.”

Since Trump’s announcement, Vargas said many students, faculty, staff and community members have started to have important conversations about how to support undocumented students.

However, she said she is concerned that they are just conversations.

“We could get together, we could write letters to the editor or call our representatives in Congress or just spread knowledge to the people who actually don’t know much about DACA to decrease the level of ignorance that exists on campus,” Vargas said. “We’re having these conversations over and over without actually taking action, and I think that’s what we’re lacking.”

Ramirez said community organizing is valuable, but administrative action would go a long way.

“It’s so important for us to gather, to get numbers,” he said. “We pay tuition here, we have to pay because we don’t have another way to fund our education. That’s the whole reason that we’re here — we came to get an education.”

In his announcement Tuesday, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation to address DACA recipients within the next six months.

The legislation, called the Dream Act, would grant legal status to those who were brought into the United States as children and has been passed around in Congress since 2001 with little success.

When President Barack Obama created the DACA program in 2012,it was intended to be a temporary way for undocumented young people to go to school and work until the Dream Act could become law.

Though Ramirez said he is sad and angry Trump took DACA away, he also feels hope that it will push Congress to pass the Dream Act.

“I feel DACA gave me a future, gave me wings,” Ramirez said. “But this made me realize, okay, this gives us a perfect time to reform, find a real solution, and so I feel a little bit of hope.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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