Hundreds of students crowded into a room in Houston Hall on Sept. 14 to attend an informational session on the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. At the event, which started at noon, Penn administrators expressed their support for students, presented Penn's resources and answered questions that audience members submitted anonymously on index cards.
Hosted by the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life and Penn Law School, the event in Bodek Lounge was packed. Staff members had to retrieve additional chairs for attendees without seats. Tens of tables in the room were lined with fliers for Penn's first-generation, low-income program and for local organizations that support “DACAmented," undocumented and immigrant communities.
"I know that there's a lot of activity around the public discussion and how we can influence this administration," said Provost Wendell Pritchett, who opened the session with a brief statement.
"I want to urge you to do all those things, too. But as the provost, I'm focused on what we're doing as an institution, and again our institution, the University of Pennsylvania, supports all students," he said.
Greenfield Intercultural Center Director Valerie de la Cruz said this would be the first of many sessions to be held for those affected by DACA or interested in issues surrounding it.
Cruz also introduced a panel of representatives from various campus resources that might be valuable to students affected by DACA, including Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Registration and Financial Services, Student Intervention Services and La Casa Latina.
Penn Law professor Sarah Paoletti gave an overview of DACA and argued for the constitutionality of the program. Paoletti discussed the history of the program, the arbitrary guidelines for qualification and the timeline for seeking renewal of DACA.
“Know your rights," Paoletti said. "You have the right to an attorney. You have the right to remain silent. If [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] comes knocking at your door, you don’t have to open the door."
Paoletti also announced that, through the Translational Legal Clinic, the Greenfield Intercultural Center is going to host free renewal consultations for the Penn community on Sept. 22.
"The dreamers have been at this a long time" she added. "It is incumbent upon us to stand by them as they continue through that fight.”
2013 College graduate Kareli Lizarraga, now the associate director of La Casa Latina, shared her story on growing up as an undocumented immigrant. She applied to Penn as an international student, despite having grown up in the United States. Hiding her legal status was difficult, so when she was confirmed as a DACA recipient during her junior year, she was overjoyed, Lizarraga said. Securing internships and forming personal connections became infinitely easier once she obtained her social security number.
“With this announcement that came out on Sept. 5, so many things feel in jeopardy once again,” Lizarraga said. “One of the things that I find most infuriating is this attempt to take away the sense of normalcy I was able to gain within the last five years.”
University Director of Financial Aid Elaine Papas Varas said SFS will allow DACA and undocumented students to make living arrangements on campus over the school breaks. She also said the office plans to support students facing food insecurity and to cover the expensive fees for renewing DACA permits, which can cost upwards of $495.
Some students not directly affected by DACA were also in attendance. Nursing seniors Sarah Shin and Charis Anderson attended the session with the members and the instructor of their community health clinical group.
“Immigrants are part of the community, and their health is important to us as nurses,” Anderson said. “We wanted to better understand what’s going on and how we can support them.”
The DACA information session ended with a question and answer section for the panelists who each addressed questions posed by the audience.
“I want to encourage everyone here, whether this affects you directly or not, to show up for others,” Lizarraga said, as she ended her speech. “To show love and compassion because it means the world right now.”