When I received my letter of acceptance to Arizona State University almost four years ago, I was not delighted over the news like most students would have been. Reading this letter congratulating me did not signify the beginning of a new chapter in my life, but was instead a reminder of my unique legal status as a student and of the uncertainty of the years ahead. Back then, I felt disappointed believing in a system where if I excelled in the classroom and was involved in extracurriculars, that was enough to fulfill any student’s dream of attending college.
Specifically as a first generation, low-income, and minority student, having been raised by parents who despite not having degrees themselves have always valued education, I was upset by how meaningless all my work could have become after graduating high school. While I do take some responsibility for not being knowledgeable on what it meant to be a DACA student pursuing higher education back then, I was stunned by how few resources, competence, and support an institution like ASU had when it came to handling DACA students.
My story is similar to the other almost 300 DACA students attending a public university in Arizona. Most of us have faced much adversity and have relied on our skills and talents to overcome such challenges. We have faced financial insecurity, legal vulnerability, and have been exposed to constant reminders of politicians and public institutions telling us we are not worthy of an education, let alone of being in this country.
The vast majority of these 300 students have also attended a community college in order to realistically afford college tuition prices. While most of us can very well qualify to receive scholarships and pell grants, because of state and federal policies put in place by politicians who see us first as illegal and students second, we are disqualified from such benefits.
This means every single DACA student at ASU is either paying out of pocket or has received a private scholarship. In many ways when I think of ASU, there is a bittersweet feeling induced in me. I know I am receiving a quality education at a fine institution where just by the number of unique student opportunities it is worth the tuition price. However, I am still in shock of how disconnected and careless ASU has been when dealing with its DACA population.
I understand politics play a huge role in all of this, both outside and inside of ASU. I know the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) is responsible for tuition prices. I know we live in a Republican dominated state legislature which appropriates university funding, and I know that we are not the largest student population at ASU. What I do know is that DACA students fought for in-state tuition and continue to every time that it is threatened by a politician or a lawsuit. We advocated for our driver licenses so we could drive to school and work safely. I and other DACA students also founded Undocumented Student for Education Equity (USEE) to better represent and protect DACA students when no one else would.
ASU prides itself on being a partnered institution with The Dream.US, a national scholarship fund for excelling DACA students. But what else has ASU done aside from accepting our private tuition money? DreamZone has always been a poster-child program ASU uses to educate faculty/staff on the difficulties faced by DACA/undocumented students. While this program is indeed needed to inform the ASU community, it does not provide valuable resources to DACA students. USEE has tried to communicate its concerns and needs to ASU administration, and while we have been heard before, we are now being pushed away from DACA-related discussions at the institution.
To our surprise, an ASU meeting advertised to have present Matt Salmon, ASU Vice President of Government Affairs, quietly chose a very small number of DACA students to invite. And USEE, being the only student organization established to represent DACA students, did not make the cut to be part of this discussion. Instead we learned of this meeting by a last minute Facebook post by the student organizer of this event, who no longer is a DACA recipient.
Nonetheless, this completely ignores the fact that Matt Salmon is now the head of ASU to lead lobbying efforts on behalf of DACA students. Matt Salmon was a Republican congressman for the state of Arizona who has referred to the DACA program as “unconstitutional” and “illegal”. This information was not made public to those it would affect directly, DACA students, but instead we were informed by a mass delivered email after the fact. This decision is not only detrimental to the possible passing of a policy like the Dream Act, but insulting to the fears and livelihood of DACA students.
ASU President Michael Crow can go on record as many times as he wishes and claim that ASU has done everything possible to support DACA students financially and with resources. But the truth is, DACA students continue to be some of the most legally vulnerable and marginalized student groups in Arizona. We are not asking for money. We are asking to be treated with respect and dignity like any Sun Devil would, and to not be pushed away from our very own discussion because we are seen as radical for protecting our fellow students and families.
Email the writer at Oscar.E.Hernandez@asu.edu