On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas federal judge’s 2021 ruling that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is unlawful, leaving the future of the program in doubt.
The ruling prompted Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin to express disappointment over the decision in an email sent out the following Friday, in which she also affirmed the college’s continued support for its DACA and undocumented communities.
“SLCC remains committed to the success of all our undocumented immigrant students and employees and hopes that our nation can soon secure a more permanent solution,” Huftalin wrote.
DACA, established by the Obama administration in 2012, provides work permits and deportation protection for individuals who migrated to the United States as children, commonly called “Dreamers.” According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were over 611,000 active DACA recipients as of December 2021.
Last week’s ruling does not affect active DACA recipients and their ability to file for renewal, but it will continue to block new applicants. The ruling also sends the case back to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen for review of a new ruling issued by the Biden administration in August.
Since its introduction, DACA has faced ongoing legal challenges over its legality, leaving recipients and undocumented individuals, who might have otherwise been able to apply for DACA were it not for recent rulings, uncertain about their futures.
“It’s exhausting not knowing,” said Alonso Reyna Rivarola, a DACA recipient and senior director of SLCC’s Office of Institutional Equity, Inclusion and Transformation. “It’s exhausting having to wait to learn more about what these decisions mean and how they’re going to unfold.”
Reyna Rivarola said he was not surprised by last week’s ruling, a sentiment shared by Brenda Santoyo, manager of SLCC’s Dream Center, who said the decision was nonetheless “very disheartening.”
“The whole picture is millions of people,” Santoyo said.
Since 2019, the SLCC Dream Center, located at the college’s West Valley campus, has helped undocumented students, with or without DACA, to access resources and navigate college. It’s one of two such centers in the state, the other located at the University of Utah.
Santoyo said the Dream Center’s work will continue regardless of what happens, but she added that a future where DACA is rescinded would be dire because such a scenario would outpace the center’s ability to help.
“When I look at it very realistically, it’s not going to be something I can help with because I can’t change … policies at the state level,” she said about that hypothetical. “[It’d] be distressing knowing I can’t help the people I care about.”
Both Reyna Rivarola and Santoyo remain skeptical of a favorable judicial outcome for DACA, but they’re hopeful that current recipients will continue to be protected if the program is struck down.
The SLCC and U. Dream Centers recently partnered with the non-profit organization Voices for Utah Children to cover or reimburse DACA renewal fees, which come to $495 for an individual every two years. SLCC announced a month ago that it would do the same for its employees.
Santoyo said she’s working with colleagues to develop an independent contractor system that would allow students without work permits to receive compensation for completed projects. The implementation of this system, however, will take time.
“There’s already processes in place at the college,” Santoyo said, “so, it’s [about] navigating those processes and finding out how to change them. We have to keep pushing for change.”
For more information about the Dream Center, resources and scholarships available to undocumented students, or to access the DACA renewal funding requests mentioned, visit the center’s web page.