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How DACA's uncertain legal status could affect undocumented students on the Central Coast

Greta Mart/KCBX
A DACA protest in San Luis Obispo in 2017.

This month, a federal judge upheld a decision to declare a program protecting thousands of undocumented people from deportation to be unlawful. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office said the outcome jeopardizes thousands of students’ educations.

The program is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, and the recipients of the program are called Dreamers.

Anjalie Tandon/KCBX
SLO County demonstrators defend DACA program in 2017.

The lengthy legal battle has left the program’s future uncertain. A federal judge in Texas ruled the program can continue for now, but halts new applications for the program going forward from October 31.

However, current recipients will continue to have protections against deportation and continue to carry a U.S. work permit.

Linda Vasquez works for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office in state and federal relations. She said since this decision has been made, many students have become fearful of reaching out to faculty and unveiling their status.

“They're unsure of who they can reveal their status to. Many undocumented students have access to free financial aid money that they don't have to pay back but they're unaware that this stuff exists for them because they're afraid to ask,” Vasquez said.

According to American Progress, a public policy research organization, there were nearly 600,000 DACA recipients in the country last year.

Recipients of the program pay about 9.4 billion dollars in taxes each year, about 350,000 are employed and about 60 percent of those who are unemployed – are attending school.

American Progress said thousands are health care workers, educators and workers in the food supply chain.

However, many high-profile Republicans in Congress want to see DACA end as part of their stance against illegal immigration, as well as considering the program an abuse of executive power.

DACA has been around for ten years now. Vasquez said getting rid of it would be detrimental to not only immigrant communities, but also the national, state and local economies.

“This is gonna impact our nation. You're talking about billions of dollars that they've contributed to. 10 years after DACA was created, where are those recipients now? They’re doctors, they’re teachers, entrepreneurs, artists. And so undoing DACA does cause a lot of harm in our communities, but also in our economies,” Vasquez said.

Existing DACA recipients are able to apply for financial assistance for higher education, including at local colleges and universities across the Central Coast like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cuesta College, Allan Hancock College and more.

The halt to new DACA applications is scheduled to go into effect on October 31st.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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