This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.
Leaders at Salt Lake Community College said a recent federal court ruling, calling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful, is disappointing but not surprising.
“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,” SLCC President Deneece Huftalin wrote in an email in early October, shortly after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas federal judge’s 2021 ruling against the DACA program.
The appellate court did send the case back to the lower court, to have U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen look at a revision of the DACA program, issued by the Biden administration in August. The ruling leaves the program’s future in doubt.
DACA, established by the Obama administration in 2012, provides work permits and deportation protection for people 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.
Since its introduction, DACA has faced ongoing legal challenges over its legality, leaving recipients and undocumented people 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 the Oct. 5 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, 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 Utah; the other one is the Dream Center at the University of Utah.
Santoyo said the SLCC Dream Center’s work will continue regardless of what happens. If DACA were ever rescinded permanently, she said, the center’s future would be dire because the problems young immigrants would face would outpace the center’s ability to help.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. “[It’d] be distressing knowing I can’t help the people I care about.”
Both Reyna Rivarola and Santoyo say they are skeptical that DACA will survive in the courts — and what appears a likely vote by the U.S. Supreme Court. They are hopeful, though, that current recipients will continue to be protected if the program is struck down.
The SLCC and U. Dream Centers recently partnered with the nonprofit organization Voices for Utah Children to cover or reimburse DACA renewal fees, which come to $495 for an applicant every two years. SLCC announced in September that it would do the same for its employees.
Santoyo said she is 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 slcc.edu/dreamcenter (for the SLCC’s program) or dream.utah.edu (for the U’s center).
Cristian Martinez wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.