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'Their community is our community': Campus organizations support DREAMers amid DACA ruling

UNC sophomore Carolina Mendez, the co-vice president of Students United for Immigrant Equality, poses for a portrait outside of Graham Memorial Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2023.

On Sept. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ruled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is illegal. In light of this decision, many undocumented students on UNC’s campus are worried their deferred status may be in jeopardy. 

DACA, which was created under the Obama administration in 2012, provides temporary relief from deportation for young undocumented immigrants living in the United States.  

Carolina Mendez, the co-vice president of Students United for Immigrant Equality (SUIE) comes from a mixed-status family. Through her peers in her organization, she said she has seen the uncertainty that this ruling has brought firsthand. 

“Being a student in college is already hard enough,” she said. “Now imagine ending on the wave of saying ‘Am I always going to have this secured status to continue pursuing my education and enter the workforce later on?’” 

This is the third time the program has been ruled illegal and sent to a higher court for a final decision. One of these previous rulings also came from Judge Hanen in 2021.  

Professor Rick Su, who teaches immigration law at the UNC School of Law, said the ruling itself doesn’t necessarily mean current DACA recipients will automatically lose their status and educational access at the University.

“What's interesting to know is even though [the U.S. District Court] held that the program was illegal, they have not blocked the entire program,” he said. “What they blocked is new people from signing on to the DACA program, but they have not blocked the existing individuals in DACA and their ability to renew.” 

Su also said that DACA recipients, commonly known as DREAMers, are most worried by the uncertainty that the new ruling brings, because future deportations are an unlikely result. 

“There is always this question hanging over [DACA recipients] which is: when is this all going to end?” he said. “I think that is the biggest concern in the immediate grounds, I think how it actually plays out with regard to when deportations will begin is much harder to tell.” 

In the wake of this ruling, SUIE is working to decide the best way they can support DREAMers on UNC’s campus. 

Mendez said SUIE wants to foster an environment where students are comfortable expressing their immigration status. 

She also said that for people affected, including DREAMers and those with familial ties to the program, hearing the arguments against DACA play out in the courtroom is "heartbreaking." 

“Something that they're not taking into account is that these students, these individuals, they're contributing so much to our economy once they enter through school, when they buy a home,” Mendez said. 

In addition to student organizations like SUIE, UNC’s Carolina Latinx Center and UndocuCarolina are other spaces where students can find community and resources for navigating Chapel Hill as an immigrant.  

Jaleah Taylor, the undergraduate secretary and chief communications officer for the Undergraduate Executive Branch, said UndocuCarolina holds training sessions where students can learn how to become allies to DACA recipients and the greater immigrant community

She said that many students may not know if they share classes with undocumented students so always emphasizing inclusive language, rhetoric and policies is important in building a welcoming space.

Mendez said some ways the general student body can support DREAMers are to stay informed on DACA rulings and to be considerate when discussing immigration with peers. 

“Their community is our community,” Taylor said. 

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