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November 16, 2012

Speakers project future for undocumented students

A panel of speakers, faculty, and alumni gathered Monday night to discuss a new federal program that affects the future of undocumented students.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), which was introduced by President Obama on June 15, provides undocumented immigrants protection from deportation for two years to prevent disruptions to their higher education.

Tamara Felden, director of the Office of International Affairs, discussed the changes that have occurred here at the University since DACA has been enacted.

Speaking proudly about the U of C’s commitment to its undocumented students, Felden said, “Undocumented students are now being more visible in the [U of C student] population. This is now a topic that is part of the institution and it won’t go away. It’ll keep growing.”

Cindy Augustine (A.B. ’11), the co-founder of the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, discussed the recent work of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), where Augustine now works. ICIRR has been informing the undocumented student community on what they can do to capitalize on the federal changes through information sessions and a college application workshop held at Navy Pier.

But confusion about how an undocumented student can apply for protection under DACA—and given that the initiative only protects students for two years—has led to discussion about the relative progressiveness of the program.

Augustine and Susan Gzesh, executive director of the U of C Human Rights Program, both talked about how the program only offers temporary relief. “It’s not the DREAM Act, not the law, not an executive order,” said Augustine.

According to Gzesh, “It’s about as much the executive branch can do at this point. It’s the first step towards comprehensive immigration reform.” However, she explained it will be a very long process, as only the currently Republican-dominated Congress has the power to grant such a change.

The final panelist, Antonio Garcia III, recounted his own experiences as undocumented students with DACA. A graduate of UIC, Antonio admitted to having initial doubts about the program, but remains hopeful about the initiative’s prospects.

“I’m going to be acknowledging to the government that I exist instead of hiding like I’ve done my entire life. Assuming I get DACA it’s going to feel odd having that freedom.”

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