President Trump announced last week that he’s eliminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The people protected are those who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children, usually by their parents. Because those affected by DACA are young, the decision has sent a chill through the ranks of students in public schools and those pursuing higher education in Wyoming.
Unless Congress acts to continue DACA or creates an alternative policy, 800,000 undocumented young people could face deportation in six months. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are 1,141 people in Wyoming protected by DACA.
Susan Durfee Thulin, the director of Central Wyoming College-Jackson, said the uncertainty is already affecting her students.
“I have asked the students who have come to me to sit down and talk to me before they take steps like dropping their classes,” Thulin said.
Reeling from the uncertainty
One student, she said, came to her and said he was dropping out to work full time and save money to care for his family in the event that they had to leave the country.
“The uncertainty is causing harm, and it’s very stressful,” Thulin said.
DACA stipulates that beneficiaries had to be younger than 31 in June 2012 and must have entered the U.S. when they were younger than 16. Thulin said a “notable amount” of CWC students are in the targeted age range.
DACA recipients need to be in school, hold a high school diploma or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces. They cannot have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or more than three misdemeanors, and must not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
“This impacts everybody; this impacts the community,” Thulin said. “I’m concerned about the community as a whole and, of course, for those particular individuals. But even those who aren’t of DACA status are impacted by the uncertainty and the potential fate and the stress that it places on them.”
Students who graduated from Wyoming high schools are eligible to attend CWC.
“It’s the policy of the state of Wyoming that all high school graduates have access to higher education,” Thulin said.
The college’s application asks where applicants were born and, if the answer is not the United States, if they are a U.S. citizen. For those who aren’t U.S. citizens, some sort of documentation is asked for but isn’t required.
“If they aren’t born in the U.S., but they have paperwork, great,” Thulin said. “We take a copy of it. But if they don’t have documentation, it’s made note of in the system.”
That information is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as FERPA, meaning that immigration officials need a lawful judicial order, warrant or subpoena to access students’ immigration status unless they have written consent from the student.
Many educational institutions don’t know the immigration status of their students.
Teton County School District No. 1 doesn’t ask for or require any information about a student’s or a family’s status.
“We do not ask for citizenship or legal status in order to provide educational services,” said Charlotte Reynolds, the district’s information coordinator. “We are required to provide services for all Teton County residents who show up at our doorstep. We wouldn’t know which of our students may or may not be covered under DACA.”
Reynolds said there might be some school district graduates who would be affected by the loss of their status by losing access to higher education or future employment, but it’s not something the district tracks.
There could also be teachers or other district employees who fall under DACA. But Reynolds said that information isn’t public because it is part of district personnel files.
“Like any other employer, there certainly is a possibility that we would have employees who are covered under DACA, and therefore our organization would be impacted,” Reynolds said.
University of Wyoming officials said they didn’t know how many of their staff might be affected. Chad Baldwin, the director of institutional communications, said he wasn’t aware of any professors with DACA status, but he couldn’t be sure.
It’s estimated that at least 36 UW students fall under DACA protections. President Laurie Nichols released a statement to the UW community saying that, “The University of Wyoming is inclusive and committed to nurturing an environment that values and manifests diversity, internationalization and mutual respect.”
The University of Wyoming does not require students to report their immigration status.
“They can self-report, but it’s not required,” Baldwin said.
But to qualify for a Hathaway Scholarship, one of the state’s prized cash awards, students must prove their citizenship.
Adam Severson works in the College of Law and is assigned to establish legal status for DACA students and employees.
“First, it means providing them updated information on what Tuesday’s decision says and what the implications are,” Severson said. “There’s a lot information out there. Some of it is accurate, and some of it is not. Immigration is a very complicated area of law, and we will likely be providing advice and assistance when we can.”
The university will also refer cases to local immigration attorneys, Severson said.
Severson said some DACA recipients may have “other avenues for remaining in the U.S. legally” that might include family visas, seeking asylum status and special immigrant juvenile status or visas.
“What we want to do is screen DACA recipients to see if they are eligible for these other kinds of immigration statuses, so they know all of their options while they’re figuring out what to do and how to go forward,” he said.