Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 11:37 pm | Fair 61º


Local News

Undocumented Santa Barbara City College Students Share Their Stories at DACA Forum

Students talk about fear of the program ending as they strive to continue their college educations and contribute to their Santa Barbara community

Ventura-based immigration attorney Vanessa Frank answers questions during the “Untold Stories: (UN)Documented Narratives” event at Santa Barbara City College on Tuesday. Click to view larger
Ventura-based immigration attorney Vanessa Frank answers questions during the “Untold Stories: (UN)Documented Narratives” event at Santa Barbara City College on Tuesday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Since President Donald Trump announced plans to phase out the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program by early 2018, Santa Barbara City College student Arturo has been afraid.

He has a crippling fear that every knock at the door of his home could end the life he has known for years. It could terminate a college-level education he strives to finish.

“We tell my nephew that if someone knocks on the door — don’t open it,” Arturo said. “When I go outside of my house, I look around and see if everything is normal. I have been living at this home for six to seven years. I know my neighborhood. All of my hard work to have a better life can go away.”

To protect their safety, Arturo and two female SBCC students were identified only by pseudonyms at the “Untold Stories: (UN)Documented Narratives” forum held at SBCC Tuesday.

More than 70 students, faculty and community members filled the theater, with their attention fixed on the projector screen with the image of three graduates wearing mortarboards and the word “Dreamers” stretched across the banner.

Attendees could hear a pin drop as the students' voices echoed out of the theater’s speakers. The podium on the stage was empty, and the theater lights dimmed. 

“I decided not to show my face because I am afraid sometimes — I am putting myself at risk, and there might be people who want to hurt me,” said a student identified as Anna, who said she entered the country illegally from Mexico in 2003 with her family. “I did not show myself publicly because I can’t put my family at risk. They didn’t sign up for the harassment.”

Anna said she is taking classes at SBCC to prepare for a master’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles.

She said immigration is an issue that impacts more than just Latinos.

The SBCC student urged Congress to pass legislation that addresses the immigration system and allows legalization for all immigrants to the United States. 

“We are not here to bring harm because this is our home," Anna said. "We are here to build our communities and contribute to the county.”

The days are uncertain for Elizabeth, who began to cry while she was telling her story to the audience.

Elizabeth’s father left his two daughters and family in Mexico, and came to the United States when he was 25 years old and was looking for work, Elizabeth said.

Her father had a sixth-grade education, and his primary language was Spanish.

“I don’t see my parents as criminals,” Elizabeth said. “I see them as heroes because they left their family behind so I could have the opportunities they didn’t — like going to school and having a job.”

Elizabeth was just one year old when she “migrated” to the United States, she said.

She used her cousin’s documentation papers.

“At 9 or 10 (years old), it was the first time I found out I was undocumented after I asked my dad ‘why do I have to speak to my grandma on the phone — why can’t I just see her?’” Elizabeth said. 

Elizabeth said she benefits from DACA, the executive order signed by President Barack Obama allowing undocumented immigrants who did not have a serious criminal conviction and who came to the United States before the age of 16 to apply for renewable two-year work permits and deportation relief during that time.

“I can provide for my family,” Elizabeth said. “This is the only place I know. I have sacrificed a lot including my culture and language.”

DACA has shielded nearly 790,000 young unauthorized immigrants, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

SBCC does not collect DACA information on its students, SBCC spokeswoman Luz Reyes-Martin said.

Reyes-Martin said the college has 491 students enrolled under California AB 540 this fall semester.

“These are undocumented students who, under California law, are able to enroll in college,” Reyes-Martin said. 

SBCC American Ethnic Studies and Black Studies Professor Craig Cook said critics of illegal immigration argue that immigrants take jobs away from Americans and place a burden on the education, health-care and welfare systems.

“American society is in a debate over immigration and the role of immigrants in our society,” Cook said. “Some wrongly believe they pose a threat to society's basic structure.”

Cook said supporters advocate that immigrants enrich the country because they provide valuable services.

Saturne Tchabong, a political science major and president of SBCC’s Black Student Union, was born in Turin, Italy. She came to the U.S. in 2000 and learned English by watching Disney television shows.

The 19-year-old said she grew up as an undocumented immigrant in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

“It was interesting, growing up with this secret,” Tchabong said. “A lot of immigrants are amazing people who come for an opportunity.”

Tchabong received her green card in 2013 and this summer, worked with State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson

“We would attend meetings on how to improve the safety of those that were undocumented, despite what is going on in Washington, D.C.,” Tchabong said. “In Santa Barbara, we have people like Senator Jackson and Congressman Salud Carbajal who fight to protect undocumented immigrants.”

She told Noozhawk that she urges DACA recipients to contact their elected officials about continuing the program.

Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Jackson held a press conference on Wednesday calling for immediate passage of the DREAM Act to codify the DACA program.

According to Carbajal, more than 9,000 entrepreneurs, students and military members are eligible for DACA on the Central Coast.

Vanessa Frank knows DACA well. The Ventura-based immigration attorney was on hand Tuesday to answer audience questions and commended students for sharing their personal experiences. 

“We heard some wonderful stories,” Frank said. 

Tuesday's event was supported by several departments and campus clubs, including the English as a Second Language, Ethnic Studies and Justice Studies departments; the SBCC Foundation; CAUSE(Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy); and the I.D.E.A.S.(Improving Dreams Equality Access & Success) club.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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