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Undocumented at U-M

A U-M freshman speaks about the impact of DACA and the uncertain future she now faces.
By Micheline Maynard

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Read time: 3 minutes

U-M freshman Sandra P. has the same goals as many of her classmates: graduate from college, land a job, and perhaps attend graduate school. But, she says, “I don’t know how I am going to be able to do that. Other students have opportunities that I am not going to be able to have.”

Sandra P. (she asked that Michigan Alumnus not use her last name) is in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, authorized in June 2012 by then-President Barack Obama. DACA permits Dreamers—children who were brought to the United States by their undocumented immigrant parents—to work and study here.

“Before DACA, we always lived in fear,” Sandra P. says, adding that her undocumented status “forced me to grow up.” She came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 2 when her father, an itinerant farm worker, paid an intermediary $3,000 to help Sandra, her mother, and her older brother cross the border.

She says their journey was not unusual. “My parents came here to support their family and have a better life.”

But finding income was not easy. For years, the family bounced between Georgia, Florida, and Michigan’s fruit belt, depending on where her father found work. She often acted as an interpreter for her parents until their English improved.

Eventually, her father found a steady job, allowing the family to settle near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her parents then had two more children; both are U.S. citizens.

That stability helped Sandra P. excel in high school. She was her class valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society, worked in a Methodist church food pantry, and participated in multiple student clubs. “Anything my school offered, I did,” she recalls.

Upon acceptance to U-M, she looked forward to life in Ann Arbor, but as soon as she arrived on campus, her future, once again, became uncertain.

On Sept. 5, President Donald Trump ended DACA, with a six-month delay to allow for renewals. Without valid permits, DACA recipients could be expelled from the U.S. to the countries where they were born, but not raised.

Sandra P. says the news hit hard. “I was completely devastated. My mother called and said, ‘Are you going to be OK? Will you have to drop out?’”

U-M does not release the numbers of students on campus who have received DACA certification, but Sandra P. says she has already met half a dozen classmates she believes are in her same situation.

On the day of the DACA announcement, U-M President Mark Schlissel told the University community in an email that he was “deeply disappointed” by Trump’s decision. He said the University would continue to monitor developments concerning DACA.

“I also want all students to know that I view their opportunity to study here as both the right thing to do and in our nation’s best interest,” Schlissel’s message read.

DACA’s future appeared secure when Trump, alongside U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer, announced a deal that would extend the policy as part of a plan to build a border wall with Mexico. To date, however, no specific legislation has been introduced.

In early September, Sandra P. joined other Latino students at a protest rally organized shortly after the Rock at Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street was defaced with an anti-Latino slur and a pro-Trump message.

“We wanted to make people aware that we are here and we need support and advocacy,” says Sandra P., who plans to major in English and pursue a minor in political science. After that, she hopes to attend law school. But DACA status makes students ineligible for federal tuition aid, leaving her to rely on private grants to pay for her U-M education.

Recently, she faced another cost. Oct. 5 is the deadline for eligible DACA recipients to file renewal requests with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Sandra P. hired a lawyer and paid a $495 fee to renew, plus legal costs. To her relief, her renewal was approved.

Sandra P. says she will find a way to stay at Michigan and in the U.S. “I really want to be here,” she says, adding that earning a degree is something “my parents would be really proud of.”


Micheline Maynard is a regular contributor to Michigan Alumnus and recently wrote about affordability on campus in the fall 2017 issue of the magazine. She is the former Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

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