At 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, like many at Ohio State and across the country, a small group of students gathered to discuss the potential repercussions of the 2016 presidential election.
But these students, protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, shared a common fear of what Donald Trump’s presidency might mean for them.
DACA is an executive order introduced by President Barack Obama in 2012 that protects people who came into the United States undocumented as children. If the person meets the qualifications, any action on their immigration status is paused, which could include deportation, for a renewable period of two years. According to his platform, Trump will “cancel immediately all illegal and overreaching executive orders,” which, especially given his campaign promises to tamp down on illegal immigration, could include DACA.
The future is uncertain for Daniella Santos Vieira, a fourth-year in finance. DACA enabled her to get a driver’s license and work permit so she could work her way through college.
“I’m afraid of, ‘Now what’s going to happen? How am I going to work?’ It’s a very scary and devastating thought,” she said.
Vieira came to Boston from Brazil at 11 years old, and is the only one in her immediate family that has DACA status. Her older sister, who was born in the United States, was able to help her parents gain permanent residency, and last summer, citizenship. The process took 11 years for her mother and 13 years for her father. While Vieira has an application submitted to gain permanent residency status, she said she anticipates it taking six years or more for immigration authorities to even look at her case. DACA protects Vieira in the meantime.
The same goes for Zun Huang Lin, a 2015 alumnus in economics who came to the United States from China at 11 years old. Lin was the only person in his family approved for a tourist visa, and hasn’t seen his parents in the 15 years he has been in the U.S., as they have not been successful in gaining a tourist visa to visit him. Lin said his parents feel positive about the education system in America and think he should stay beyond his tourist visa to have a chance at being successful in a system they deemed more merit-based than China’s.
“My parents don’t have those connections, and they don’t see a good future for me in China,” Lin said. “That’s why they think it’s better for me to come out here where, they believe, in America, what you achieve isn’t based on how many connections you have, it’s based on how hard you work, how much time that you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve the American dream.”
In the Spring and Fall semesters of 2013, Lin said his admission was deferred at OSU and he was told the university did not have a procedure in place for admitting DACA students at the time.
Both Zun and Vieira expressed frustration with the way the university handles admissions and scholarships for students protected under DACA.
Yolanda Zepeda, assistant vice provost of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the process for students to apply to the university is not streamlined, with students often bounced back and forth between international and domestic admissions. She said she considers it her informal role to make sure these students do not fall through the cracks.
Zepeda also said there are no scholarships specifically for DACA students. A DACA student is not eligible for any scholarship funded federally, including work-study grants and Pell grants, as they are not eligible for federal funds due to their immigration status. Vieira said it cost her $400 in government fees and more than $1,000 in legal fees to apply for DACA status.
“We pay a lot of money to the government,” Vieira said. “People have a lot of thinking that immigrants like us are on welfare or we benefit from government programs, but we pay a lot of taxes and we don’t have access to any government programs including financial aid.”
University spokesman Chris Davey said the university has no plans to change the scholarship structure for DACA-protected students.
Zepeda said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has brought the issue to OSU Legal Affairs in an attempt to gain guidance on the matter.
“We want to get some clarification, so we can know what we can do. These are our students. We have DACA students here, and there’s so much confusion around these issues,” Zepeda said.
While Davey said the university doesn’t have an exact count on how many students currently enrolled are protected by DACA, Vieira said she thinks there are a lot more than the nine or 10 people in the support group she gathers with bi-weekly. They wonder about their future in the country and at the university they call home, she said.
“This is my home,” Vieira said. “When I introduce myself to people, I say I’m from Boston, and Ohio is becoming increasingly my home. We all feel the school spirit with the Buckeyes, and being in Ohio I was surprised to see how proud people are of the entire state of Ohio, how people rally around the university. Four years is almost half of my time in the U.S. Ohio is also my home.”
Correction, 11/22: A previous version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote from Daniella Santos Vieira to Yolanda Zepeda. Additionally, OSU Legal Affairs is not looking into how more DACA-protected students can acquire scholarships, as previously reported, but rather is providing guidance for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on the matter of those students’ eligibility.