By Kai Vieira da Rosa
Despite the chaos surrounding the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Whatcom is determined to show undocumented students they are not alone during this termination process.
“As a collective community, Whatcom is standing with undocumented students,” said Amy Riedel, Associate Director for Student Success.
On Sept. 5, The Department of Homeland Security announced a plan to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
DACA was made to protect undocumented youth by giving those who apply a chance to be granted deferred action and work permits for a two-year period.
“We are fully working towards giving them [DACA students] the most stress-free education possible,” Riedel said.
Whatcom offers outside resources to provide support of DACA and other undocumented students.
“We want the Whatcom campus to give undocumented students a sense of community,” Riedel said.
Whatcom has dedicated advisors, a student support group, clubs, as well as an attorney that helps with DACA registration.
“The intent is to show the students that our college supports them along with their contributions on campus,” Career and Academic Advisor, Yusuke Okazaki said.
Whatcom has held two open panels for students interested in the upcoming changes. In preparation for the panels, staff and students talked about what they wanted covered during the meetings.
“We met with them before the meeting to figure out what they wanted to communicate to the audience, and the questions were created with the students based on that desired message,” Okazaki said.
Topics covered included cultural differences, hardships faced, and future plans.
The panel gave a safe place to share some of the experiences undocumented students have had on campus.
“Some students have expressed an interest in sharing their stories, so people can be more aware of the local implications of a program like DACA ending,” Okazaki said
Students, who may or may not be legal citizens, were allowed to come and speak and share their stories to the panel.
“The point of the panels was to spread the knowledge that DACA is not just a distant issue, it is very much in our community,” Okazaki said. “People were really moved, some to tears.”
During these panels questions involving financial aid and outside resources were common.
“We tried to highlight the resources we have at Whatcom. Everything from on campus support to programs like WASFAA [state financial aid],” Riedel said.
Despite the end of the DACA program, undocumented students are still covered by the state passed bill, WASFAA, a financial aid program for undocumented students.
Whatcom is in the process of clarifying that the financial aid undocumented students get will not be terminated along with DACA.
“DACA is a federal program and our state did not tie eligibility to this financial aid to having DACA status,” Okazaki said. “This means the end of DACA will not affect the financial aid access, because it was passed in our state system.”
On the same day the Department of Homeland Security announced the DACA termination a “Joint DACA Statement” was released regarding the end of the program. Whatcom Community College, Western Washington University, and Bellingham Technical College were some of the 52 institutes to sign in support.
“The intent was to have a solid showing that our college supports them, their contributions, and their presence on our campus,” Okazaki said. “With all the information that is floating around out there, and a lot of negative rhetoric, I think it clarified that these students are welcome here.”
DACA coverage that expires before March 5, have until Oct. 5, to request a two-year renewal of their coverage. Within next 6 months congress plans to create a new program that will replace the ending DACA program.