In response to many non-citizens’ concerns about their future in a Trump administration, PLUMAS raised more than $1,000 to provide undocumented students and their families with legal aid at its Dream Gala on Monday night.
The organization’s goal was to create a pool of money for undocumented students, or students with non-citizen family members, not just as a resource for “the next four years” but rather as a sustainable resource for those who need it in the future, said Erica Fuentes, Political Latinx United for Movement and Action in Society president. If the need for the funds subsides, all money will be donated to the Terp DREAM scholarship, provided to first-generation undergraduate students.
More than 90 students and faculty members gathered in Nyumburu Cultural Center’s multipurpose room to support the cause, watch musical performances and listen to the night’s speaker, Janelle Wong, an American studies professor and Asian American Studies Program director.
Wong has been involved with organizing resources for undocumented students, such as a website geared toward connecting them with resources, and has been in conversation with university administration about how they can provide more support for their DACA students. However, resources are needed now more than ever, Wong said.
Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration throughout his campaign. He repeatedly called for the government to “build a wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border and said in June 2015 that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
He also pledged to repeal some of former president Barack Obama’s executive orders which Trump deems to be unconstitutional. Among these executive orders is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Obama enacted in 2012 to allow certain undocumented immigrants, who came to the United States as children, to work and study without the threat of deportation. But last week, Trump said he would handle DACA “with heart,” suggesting he may soften his campaign stance.
This university has 113 DACA students as of fall 2016, as well as 20 students covered under Maryland’s DREAM Act, a law that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students.
This month, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement led a series of raids that resulted in the arrests of more than 600 people in a week, leaving many undocumented students worrying someone they know could be next.
“The air we breathe is different [since the election] ,” Wong said. “It is filled with hostility toward immigrants, and it is filled with fear among immigrants and their supporters.”
Carol Barrios, a senior psychology major, said being the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and having friends from different countries spurred her to come to the event.
“I’ve become really passionate about it because I want to help people,” Barrios said. “Coming here is hope for them.”
Evelyn Canabal-Torres, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese department, said it is important for faculty to stand in solidarity with their undocumented students.
“We believe in this,” Canabal-Torres said. “We believe they should have an opportunity to stay here.”
Undocumented issues aren’t isolated to the Latinx community, Wong said. Unauthorized immigration from Asia has been growing at faster rates than from Mexico and Central America, according to a 2015 Migration Policy Institute report. Moreover, about 600,000 black immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented, according to a 2016 MPI report.
“We have made some progress at the University of Maryland,” Wong said. “We have petitioned the university for more resources and support … We have sought to educate and we have tried to navigate our way toward enhanced legal support. Students, as this event shows, are leading the way.”
This university’s Undergraduate Student Legal Aid Office has enlisted an immigration attorney who comes in for four hours every 45 days to help with any undocumented students’ needs, Fuentes said.
But the attorney can only give advice and cannot represent the student in court. Noncitizen students need more access to legal resources, “especially given the political climate,” the government and politics major added.
“[With] the increase in ICE activity [and] the increase in immigration raids, we feel that that time slot is not enough to meet the demand that the undocumented have right now,” Fuentes said.
This university’s Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy office will assist PLUMAS in assessing the validity of each student’s request and determining an appropriate amount of funding, Fuentes said.
The event was co-sponsored by the Muslim Political Alliance, the NAACP UMD chapter, the UMD Student Labor Action Project and other campus organizations.
“I just love the unity we felt amongst each other,” said Sarah Eshera, president of the Muslim Political Association and a junior mathematics and philosophy major. “It’s important to stand with our undocumented student community.”