Dreams deferred

As undocumented citizens await the Supreme Court’s ruling on DACA, immigration issues hit home for some UNR students.

Sofia Garcia is a University of Nevada Reno alum and a DACA recipient. Her father was deported in 2017.

Sofia Garcia is a University of Nevada Reno alum and a DACA recipient. Her father was deported in 2017.

*This name has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

In September 2017, the Trump administration announced its plan to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Under DACA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not deport undocumented youth if they came to the United States as children. Legal challenges in support of DACA made their way to the Supreme Court in June 2019, and the Court heard oral arguments in November. The court was originally set to make its decision in June of this year, but it’s now unlikely that the fate of some 700,000 immigrants shielded by DACA will be decided before November’s election.

Reno passed the “Welcome City” resolution in 2017, which states that under city law, people in the community will be treated equally despite their race. This was supposed to reaffirm the city’s position on inclusivity, but the resolution does not protect undocumented people and DACA recipients. The “Welcome City” resolution focuses on the police department’s policies against profiling based on race or ethnicity, but does not have a policy in place for the police department’s treatment of undocumented or DACA recipients. The resolution allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention of undocumented immigrants in various methods.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s office policy manual states,“the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office does not independently conduct sweeps or other concentrated efforts to detain suspected undocumented aliens.” Instead, the office’s contract with I.C.E. does include support services when requested by I.C.E., and, when enforcement is increased in certain areas, equal consideration is given to suspected violators.

In an email interview, I.C.E. Spokesperson Tanya Roman confirmed there are currently 15 individuals who are I.C.E. detainees at the Washoe County Jail. Roman also stated that I.C.E. arrests are targeted, and when local jurisdictions choose not to cooperate with I.C.E., they are likely to see an increase in I.C.E. enforcement activity.

“I.C.E. prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” said Roman. “In fact, 90 percent of aliens arrested by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in FY2019 had either a criminal conviction(s), pending criminal charge(s), were an I.C.E. fugitive, or illegally re-entered the country after previously being removed. I.C.E. does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and—if found removable by final order—removal from the United States.”

*Sofia Garcia is a DACA recipient and an alumna of the University of Nevada, Reno. Her family moved to Reno when she was young, but her father was deported in 2017. He had alcohol issues, which led to him being detained by I.C.E. one night when he was walking with a bottle in his hand, intoxicated. The family’s experience with I.C.E. as undocumented immigrants has been devastating.

“It was the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever had to experience because, supposedly, they track all of their individuals in I.C.E. detentions, but that’s not necessarily true,” Garcia said. “Sometimes they would tell us like, ’Oh, we sent him already to Mexico,’ and I’m like, ’No, I’ve been calling, and he’s nowhere there.’ It was more like, ’Where is he? Where do you have him detained?’ Not only that, but having to deal with ’Why don’t you guys just send him back home?’”

The financial burden fell to Garcia when her father was detained. The family had to hire a lawyer due to immigration court not providing one to those who cannot afford one. Thus, if a family cannot afford a lawyer, detainees are expected to defend themselves in court. The family, however, struggled with going back and forth due to the way such cases are handled.

“I didn’t understand why the movement and what was going on,” Garcia said. “But when they gave us the, ’OK,’ he’s back here in Reno under I.C.E., and we’re gonna fly him out,’ from there, I went to go visit him at the I.C.E. detention. I asked if there’s a possibility we could see him before he leaves. They said, ’No, but you can give him a bag with 25 items.’ Like, my dad was going back to Mexico with nothing. That was just not fair. His crime was, he worked in construction, building buildings for the state of Nevada. It just really crushed me, and it struck us really hard within our family.”

Garcia’s father was moved to federal prison in California before his family was notified of him finally being deported. Garcia stated that when she visited her father, the conditions of the facilities were not as good as they made it out to be. Roman, however, stated that through an aggressive inspections program, I.C.E. ensures its facilities provide quality care to all of those in their custody.

“He had to deal with court hearings,” Garcia said. “He was sentenced to a year in federal prison, and we didn’t understand why. Why waste tax paying dollars when they can honestly just send him home? You know, they didn’t have to waste [money] on food or energy or anything, when he could have gladly just left.”

Garcia now works at the University of Nevada, Reno, and stated the difference DACA has made in her life and her ability to help support her family. However, she stated that there are some difficulties that come along with it due to Nevada laws, such as not being able to work in certain professions in health care, engineering and education. The ability to work in a profession depends on the licensing needed for the job.

UNR has taken a stance to support DACA and undocumented students and their families on campus. They went as far to create a position for Jahahi Mazariego in 2017, a social services coordinator, to better accommodate students and community members with immigration issues. In addition, they work to procure funds outside of federal financial aid from institutional, state and private sources.

“As for me here on campus, I am making sure that students feel heard and validated, connecting them with resources that I know will be available to them,” said Mazariego. “Also, being intentional and creating a space where students can feel heard. I think that’s what I can do as a social worker, as a coordinator here on campus, being intentional and using my privilege and my ways to advocate for these students in their families.”

Mazariego stated that there is no data for how many UNR students are DACA recipients or undocumented due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA protects the privacy of student’s educational records. However, many students have come to talk to her about immigration issues, including their family members. She also sees how things targeted toward undocumented citizens and DACA recipients—such as people repeating President Trump’s, “build the wall” campaign slogan—have an effect on students.

“In terms of a coordinator, what I see is students feeling uneasy, anxious, often depressed and isolate themselves,” said Mazariego. “That’s why I think it’s important for me to create an intentional space for them to talk.”

Garcia also feels that dealing with immigration issues, especially deportation, takes a toll on many student’s mental health, and that the process of becoming a U.S. citizen is not as easy as people think.

After the 2016 election, and with the current climate of the country regarding immigration, many community members, the university and students are worried about the upcoming election. Mazariego is waiting for the Supreme Court to make the decision so they can see the best action to take for students and community members.

“Reach out, don’t stay close within the shadows,” said Garcia, as advice for students who may be dealing with immigration issues. “Reach out to individuals. Don’t ever let someone indicate to you that higher education is something that you can’t achieve when you definitely can. I know I did it. I know many others will.”