Carlos Mejia lived in Mexico until he was six years old, when his father saved up enough money to move their family to the United States.
Mejia, a first-generation student and graduate of Salt Lake Community College, has resided in Utah most of his life. This is where he first attended college and obtained an associate degree in psychology before transferring to Utah Valley University to pursue a business degree.
“Being a first-gen [student], my biggest dream [was] to walk down the stage,” Mejia said. “[I] dedicated my [associate] degree to my parents because they honestly sacrificed so much. If it wasn’t for SLCC, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far.”
However, Mejia’s dream came into question a few years ago.
During former President Trump’s time in office, there were repeated attempts to remove the executive power of DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA was established by the Obama administration in 2012 to protect thousands of young immigrants from deportation, like Mejia, who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.
“When I heard he wanted to take [DACA] away, I was going into spirals,” Mejia said. “Every day, I lived with a fear that I was going to lose everything I had, and the idea of going back to Mexico and starting all over again honestly scared me.”
DACA has faced several legal challenges over the last decade. In July, a federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA, which allows undocumented students to receive work permits, is illegal, and ordered President Biden’s administration to stop granting new applications.
In response to the Texas ruling, SLCC President Denece Huftalin promised the college’s ongoing support for “Dreamers” living in Utah.
“As Utah’s most diverse college, we want to reaffirm our ongoing support for all undocumented students,” Huftalin said in a statement. “Recently SLCC joined other higher education institutions in Utah and signed on to the Utah DACA impact statement, which aims to increase awareness and advocacy on behalf of undocumented people living in Utah.”
“Dreamers” are here to stay
SLCC’s Dream Center assists and provides support for all undocumented and mixed-status students. This support service specializes in individualized advising, community-wide outreach opportunities, and scholarship aid for students. In the past academic year, the center aided more than 125 students from various backgrounds, awarding $62,155 in scholarships.
“One of SLCC’s best student resource is our Dream Center,” Huftalin said in the statement.
The Dream Center is where Mejia works with Brenda Santoyo, the inaugural coordinator at the center, who played a pivotal role in launching and managing the Dream Center. Santoyo is a Mexican American who stuck alongside her family when they faced deportation years ago.
“A lot of what I do now is for them, and because I couldn’t help them, I could help other people,” Santoyo said. “I feel like a lot of my background and a lot of what I do here is based off that one experience.”
Santoyo participated in writing and revising President Huftalin’s statement before it was released by the college. She believes the statement shows a pledge by the college to stand by their students.
“I think if a statement is put out, I would take it as like an actual commitment, because it’s in writing, it’s in words, and there’s proof that it exists, and it went out to people,” Santoyo explained.
The recent ruling — along with other contentions over the last decade — have upset staff members at the Dream Center who work tirelessly to help students at SLCC.
“I’m honestly tired of the constant battle, where every year something or someone thinks it’s unfair or someone has a problem, but no one is offering a solution,” Mejia said. “If we pay taxes, go to school, and we’re being kind citizens, I don’t see the point of not giving us citizenship, or at least provide a little bit of protection where we feel better.”
Santoyo believes the anti-immigration sentiment has increased due to the evolving political climate.
“That kind of rhetoric already affects a lot of the policies that are passed,” Santoyo explained. “It was always a temporary solution, and there still hasn’t been a solution found. I think all DACA has done is really increase access, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small population that it’s been able to help compared to the millions and millions of people who are undocumented.”
The Dream Center staff will continue to support “DACAmented” and undocumented students around immigration issues and legislations.
The main Dream Center office is located at the SLCC West Valley Center. Students can schedule a meeting with various staff members and request information about the program by visiting the Dream Center page.
This article has been updated and republished as part of The Globe’s back to school content for the spring 2022 semester. View the original article.