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More than 1,000 Santa Monica Students Could be Affected by Decision to End DACA


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 6, 2017 -- Santa Monica educators have begun trying to allay the fears of what are likely more than 1,000 local public school and college students facing the potential end of a federal program shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

At Santa Monica College (SMC), as well as at institutions of public education across the country, educators tried to convey messages meant to build strength and hope after President Trump’s decision Tuesday to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Peaceful but often emotional, the filled-to-capacity session Tuesday in a SMC classroom was a “time for students and employees to gather in solidarity and support each other,” said Grace Smith, SMC’s spokesperson.

“We’re all coming face to face with a nightmare that might become a reality,” said Oscar de la Torre, an activist for Santa Monica’s Hispanic community and a Board of Education member for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

Trump’s decision, announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, phases out a program enacted by an Obama-era executive order that protects an estimated 800,000 people nationwide brought into the country illegally as children.

It gives Congress six months to write new immigration law to resolve the dilemma of so-called “Dreamers.” It is unclear what would happen if Congress fails to act.

If the program is ended, those who benefited from DACA would become, in phases, unable to lawfully hold jobs, buy homes, go to college and receive student loans and join the military. They would eventually be eligible for deportation.

It is unclear how many young immigrants in the local public education system would be affected, local school officials said, although the number is likely to be more than 1,000.

SMC “does not keep track of DACA students; individuals file directly with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for DACA status,” Smith said.

However, AB540 allows students who graduated from a California high school and attended at least three years in California to pay the in-state fees, or $45 per unit.

“They are eligible for state Financial Aid under AB 2000, so they can receive the Board of Governors fee waiver, as well as the state-funded Extended Opportunity Program & Services grants, and Cal grants,” she said.

As of Tuesday morning, SMC had had 1,036 AB540 enrolled students. However, some are U.S. citizens, Smith said.

A SMMUSD spokesperson said the district -- like all kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools -- does not ask for immigration status in its enrollment.

“We are required by law to provide all students with a free, public education as long as they can prove residency in our district,” said SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker. “This is how all California districts operate.”

Pinsker said that 924 students enrolled last year, or 8.3 percent of the district’s 11,005 students, were classified as English Language Learners -– another potential gauge for those protected by DACA.

Data for the current school year is not yet available but the numbers would be “likely around the same,” she said.

At SMC, faculty met with students to provide information about the Trump administration's decision during an hour-long gathering in Humanities and Social Sciences Building 103.

The meeting was organized by the student-run clubs of I.D.E.A.S. or “Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success” of SMC, Progressive Student Union and Adelante.

Smith said the student organizations were supported by administrative, staff, faculty advisors and “allies.”

“Santa Monica College stands with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office -- and hundreds of other educational and business organizations -- in affirming that our ‘Dreamer’ students are as integral a part of our community as anyone else,” SMC said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Here at Santa Monica College, we remain committed to serving our Dreamers, to helping them fulfill their life’s dreams and aspirations; this college will continue to be a safe environment for all students and personnel.

"We will work to provide the greatest support to students affected by this decision, and campus and student leaders alike have already rallied in solidarity as well as to provide resources."


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