UIC makes plans to help students affected by decision to end DACA

Aerial view of east side with skyline in background.

Before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government’s decision to end former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program Sept. 5, UIC leaders had already been working to help affected students.

“Under Provost Susan Poser, the university created a task force on immigration issues to tackle everything that’s been going on post-presidential election,” said Tanya Cabrera, associate director for equity and inclusion in the Office of Diversity. She’s led the group, which is made up of staff, administrators and faculty, since the beginning of this year.

The committee addresses a number of campus-wide issues, so after the Trump administration’s announcement to end DACA — a policy that offers nearly 1 million young undocumented immigrants temporary protection from deportation and a chance to legally work in the United States — leaders had a plan in place: to make more mental health services, legal counsel and other help available on campus.

“We’re aware of the conditions [undocumented] students are facing,” said Amalia Pallares, director of the Latin American and Latino studies program and co-leader of the task force.

Among those conditions are the terms of the DACA phase out.

“People who have signed up for DACA will continue to have protection until their term runs out, a term of two years,” explained Ted Kwon, attorney and director of Student Legal Services.

Beneficiaries whose term expires before March 5, 2018, can apply for renewals until Oct. 5, 2017. Pending DACA applications filed before the Sept. 5 announcement will still be processed, but no new DACA applications or renewals will be accepted.

Congress has six months to act before undocumented immigrants lose protections and their ability to live, work and go to school in the United States.

While some students are in limbo, they’re not alone. The Office of the Dean of Students has its doors open.

“The Office of the Dean of Students is a centralized location for information that helps students who may be facing any kind of difficulty on or off campus,” said William Rodriguez, associate dean of students and ombudsperson. For a full list of services and partners, visit dos.uic.edu.

One service housed by the department is Student Legal Services, a free, full-service law firm for students.

“We’re here to help in any way we can, to answer questions and guide students in the right direction,” Kwon said. To schedule an appointment, students should call 312-996-9214 or email akowal@uic.edu. In the next month, Student Legal Services will also add a temporary, part-time immigration attorney to their staff.

For more help, students can reach out to the UIC Counseling Center.

“It’s a safe space for undocumented students,” said Joseph Hermes, the center’s director.

In addition to regular appointments, the Counseling Center is now offering triages, or more immediate mental health assessments, to students who call them with DACA-related concerns. In the coming weeks, counselors will hold informal talks with community members at locations on the east and west sides of campus. The Counseling Center also plans to hire extra mental health professionals who will be available if students need additional counseling.

Leaders are thinking ahead, too. The next goal of the task force is to make a push for additional support for undocumented students.

“These kids are paying cash for school,” Cabrera said. “They don’t get loans or federal student aid. That’s not an option for them, so this is urgent.”

Meanwhile, university leaders will continue to support initiatives that have the potential to make positive impacts.

“Now that the administration has set a termination date, it is important we all work to support efforts to enact legislation that protects our students,” wrote Chancellor Michael Amiridis, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Poser, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Robert Barish and Vice Chancellor for Student Services Rex Tolliver, in a joint statement. “We will join our colleagues in the University of Illinois System and the entire academic community across the country as we advocate strongly for a permanent, favorable resolution for the ‘Dreamers.’”

Students with concerns about DACA should contact Cabrera at tcabrera@uic.edu or 312-355-0011.

Resources and updated information suggested by the task force is available online.

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