JACOB KNUTSON & STEPHANIE SANCHEZ
Sophomore Luisa Acosta immigrated to the United States when she was three months old. Her parents, looking for a future they could not find in Mexico, packed up their lives, crossed the border and settled in Louisiana. But only for a while.
From there they moved to Oklahoma, then, on the advice of her uncle, her parents moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At three years old, Acosta finally found home.
“South Dakota is the only place I actually remember,” Acosta said. “My whole life is here.”
Acosta and her family now have their residencies and are on the path to citizenship. But, in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the future of many of her friends, who are DACA recipients, is not as clear.
Augustana is home to a number of Dreamers just like Luisa’s friends, and their futures are in jeopardy, too.
And that has Augustana Administration worried.
“I think there are more dreamers on campus than we think,” Dean of Students Jim Bies said. “Now the challenge is how can we support students who are going through this emotional, tumultuous time when their dreams and aspirations for the future are at risk of being pulled out from underneath them.”
As of right now, the university will do everything it legally can to protect the Dreamers on campus, President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said.
Bies said this might consist of hosting informational town hall meetings and bringing in immigration experts who could offer legal counsel to Dreamers.
Before the university can offer these resources, Herseth Sandlin said it needs to track where DACA legislation is headed and concretely pin down what the University’s legal options are.
“If this ultimately gets rescinded, universities have to understand if they can take additional steps to protect [the Dreamers],” Herseth Sandlin said. “This is similar to what the sanctuary cities are dealing with. This is the grey area we have to navigate, but I don’t think we’re in the grey area yet.”
If DACA legislation is not passed by early March, the recipients who lose their protections will become eligible for deportation. If this happens, it is unknown if the federal government will hand recipients’ information over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Department Homeland Security has collected and stored the names and addresses of recipients but, for now, the Trump Administration has strongly indicated it will not send all DACA applicants’ information, en masse, to ICE.
Another option to protect recipients, Bies said, is putting pressure on elected officials. If student organizations collaborated to provide students information on how to contact their congressional delegation and urge them to think about the Dreamers when drafting DACA legislation, Bies said it could make a difference.
Herseth Sandlin, a former congresswoman, said she would like to give congress time to work before contacting the South Dakota congressional delegation.
“They have a lot coming up. Having been there, there is a lot swirling, especially with a lot of other things that have been going on in the last couple of weeks that congress has to pay attention to,” Herseth Sandlin said. “So I would like to give our congressional delegation a little breathing room here as we gather our own information and evaluate what and how to communicate with our delegation in the most productive way.”
She said early next month she would like to meet with other South Dakota universities facing similar situations to draft a course of action.
For now, Augustana faces not knowing exactly how many Dreamers are on campus, Bies said. The administration does not maintain a centralized file on citizenship, so it has no way to determine students’ immigration statuses.
“What would be most helpful to us as an institution is really knowing—not necessarily who they are—but the breadth of effect on our campus so we could make decisions on next steps,” Bies said.
Bies said, that out of concern for protecting Dreamer’s identities, he does not want to see a compiled list of names. Instead, he wants administration to hone down the general estimations of Dreamers on campus so the university can allocate resources effectively.
Right now, he estimates there are sic to a dozen Dreamers on campus. But, no matter the number, Bies said the university “can’t’ afford to sit back and do nothing.”
Bies stressed that the DACA repeal does not just affect Augustana students but could also affect faculty members and the friends and family of Dreamers.
“It really transcends whether or not the Dreamer is enrolled currently at Augustana,” Bies said. “If you have three Dreamers as close friends from your high school days, you’re emotionally upset with what’s going on and you’re concerned about their future and their livelihood.”
Acosta spoke on behalf of her friends because they are afraid to release their identity.
“A lot of them don’t want to speak up because they fear that they’re going to get bullied because of it or they might get deported,” Acosta said.
Acosta said her friends are worried about their future. If nothing is done, she said they do not know if they will be able to attend school or whether they will be deported away from the place they call home.
“When people talk about having to go back, I can understand why it is scary because we don’t know anything over there,” she said. “It’s going back to a place you don’t really know. And a lot of people don’t really speak Spanish, so going back would be very hard for them.”
“I don’t know anything about my own country. I consider it as somewhere where I was born, but I don’t know anything about it.”
One of her friends spoke to a local paper about the DACA repeal, expecting support and advice.
Instead, her friend received Facebook messages from strangers saying they were going to deport him and his parents.
Acosta said the story only reinforced their fears.
What upsets Acosta the most is that all the work her friends’ parents did to offer their families a better life may have been for nothing.
“We’re not here to cause trouble, or do anything bad. We’re here to go to school, to get a job and to provide for our families. It’s just so frustrating that it can all be taken away.”