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DREAMers look to Mills for support in times of crisis

Undocumented students and those with mixed status families say they are frightened and look to Mills College’s administration for guidance and support in turbulent times following President Trump’s announcement to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Mills has yet to be forthcoming about what support is available beyond counseling.

Recently, students searching for answers attended the Mills Supports DACA: Immigration Rights Panel, but left feeling as though the administration was leaving them with nebulous promises. In December, students protested in hopes of pushing Mills to become a sanctuary campus to no avail. The administration has shared that the institution will not claim sanctuary status for undocumented students. Administration contends that the change in status may disconnect the institution from federal funding and give students false hope that the college is a refuge in times of upheaval.

Shocks of instability were sent to a population of DREAMers at Mills when Attorney General Jeff Session announced the repeal of DACA. Undocumented student and activist, Lizbeth Cuevas, is worried about her future at Mills.

“I am hurting,” Cuevas said. “I’m undocumented. I am not white passing, I’m brown. I am really scared now.”

Graduate student Maria Contreras and other students with mixed status families also feel guilt and helplessness about the future of their network.

“My sister is studying in UCLA and my brother is about to graduate high school,” Contreras said. “I am afraid that now that the government has records of them they’ll try to deport them to a place they don’t remember. We have no family there.”

“I need to know what actions can be taken to protect the family members that are directly affected by this,” Contreras said. “Even though I am not a DACA beneficiary, I am not a citizen and there is always the fear that that can be taken away.”

While Mills College does offer a multitude of services for the emotional needs of all students and social justice resources, the staff have little to offer regarding protection from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids or the difficult navigation of the bureaucratic processes imposed on undocumented students.

“If you go to any college, on their website they’ll always have a resource list,” Cuevas said. “Mills, they need one or they need to update it because some of their information there is outdated. They should really update it and create a resource link that is more accessible. People here at Mills are involved in different resources outside of campus. If it is possible they can build a list of resources that people can seek out. It doesn’t have to be for undocumented people; it can be for everyone. I feel like Mills is so limited on resources. We forget there is a whole world outside. There are organizations out there that really care about us. They have more resources to offer.”

In the Center for Social Justice Resources, Assistant Director Alfred Del Cid said he responds to the “pressing needs” of students and staff regarding the status of DACA.

“I had a lot of students email or just come up and ask to talk,” Del Cid said. “The conversations have been anywhere from people wanting concrete information or just needing a space to vent and chat. There is a lot of uncertainty.”

However, the scope of his role is limited. Though Del Cid says there are a lot of resources for students, he says Mills is working on better communications to students in crisis. In the past, he has linked legal consults for undocumented students anonymously.

A mass email from the dean of students office was recently sent out stating that Mills would cover the expense of filing DACA paperwork for undocumented students.

Chicora Martin, the dean of students, elaborated on what Mills is doing to support undocumented students

“At this point, we have provided grants for DACA students renewing applications, set up a new scholarships in collaboration with the AAMC which we will continue to fund-raise for, provided referrals to off campus legal resources when more confidential and specific assistance is needed, provided spaces on campus for processing, healing, discussion, and information gathering, ​and hosted guest speakers to share legal information and community resources,” Martin said. “We have hosted several webinars and other professional development opportunities for staff and faculty regarding undocumented and mix status families. We know this is not something we do once and check off. We will continue to provide these and other resources as we work closely with students and impacted staff and faculty to clarify needs.”

Cuevas, Del Cid, and Contreras feel that outside of a broader pool of resources, the way in which the topic of undocumented status is discussed is of the utmost importance until there is a better handle on tangible solutions.

“There are two narratives that can be damaging for undocumented folks,” Del Cid said. “One is that only certain people deserve legal status. That’s wrong. A human being is legal. Any human being seeking an opportunity for a safer place should have access to it. Also, there is a counter-movement happening called #undocujoy. The idea is to celebrate the lives of undocumented folks.  We can be in solidarity by countering that narrative that they are only living in struggle.”