The Dreamers Resource Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio opened in January 2018 to assist undocumented students with their academic needs and to serve as a campus and community advocate. The center’s assistant director Courtney Balderas-Jacob estimated about 300 to 500 undocumented students attend UTSA, but “we don’t track our Dreamers in any specific way.”
Balderas-Jacob said Dreamers wanting to attend college often feel intimidated because they need to disclose their undocumented status to receive in-state tuition. “So there are Dreamers that are probably still coded as International,” Balderas-Jacob said, “and maybe either don’t know that they can disclose their status and have that changed, or (they) are too fearful to do that, specifically for a lot of our un-DACA-mented students.” Students with protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA) are temporarily safe from deportation.
Balderas-Jacob said word of UTSA’s Dreamers Resource Center is starting to spread. “(W)e got an email from a student -- I believe she was form North Carolina -- wanting to know if she could come because she had found out about the Dreamers Center,” she said.
However, only undocumented students living in Texas are eligible for in-state tuition. According to House Bill 1403, they have to have lived in Texas for three years prior to receiving their high school diploma or GED.
DACA has been under attack by the Trump administration and is upheld — for now — by the courts. But no new applications for DACA protection are being accepted, only renewals.
Balderas-Jacob explained that if the administration and U.S. Congress eventually come to an agreement over DACA, including extending citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients in the US, the Dreamers Center will not go away. “Half of our undocumented students are un-DACA-mented,” Balderas-Jacob said. “These students are going to be college-aged not covered by DACA. We’re going to have an even larger un-DACA-mented population that is going to need support.”
Not to mention the individuals and families receiving temporary protected status. “What happens to those children whose parents are no longer covered asylees, refugees?” she asked. “These populations are not going to go away regardless of what happens in the lege this year regardless of...a fix for DACA.”
Balderas-Jacob said the UTSA Dreamers Center is serving as a model for other institutions. “So we get a lot of calls from other universities who are seeking to put something like this in place,” she said.
Balderas-Jacob tells them they have to think beyond DACA and think of other populations who are in need of support. “These students don’t have to be extraordinary and go on to cure cancer to be worthy of an education,” she added.
Enrique Alemán, professor and chair in UTSA’s Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, said there shouldn’t be barriers in education.
“Those who want to be educated, those who want to put the sacrifice in and the work to go into higher-ed, we should be making it easier and not harder,” he said. “(B)ut there needs to be more staff, there need to be more funding behind that, there needs to be more support services, (and) legal services for students.”
He and Balderas-Jacob believe public schools play a vital role in informing students. “A lot of students find out in their high school years that they’re undocumented, and their world changes overnight,” Alemán explained.
He said “seamless pathways” should be available to undocumented students “in a way that pushes back against the racist xenophobic policies that are coming out of Washington, D.C., right now.”