The Undocumented Student Support Committee (USSC) has focused on voicing the concerns of students within the Deffered Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as well as undocumented students at Albion College. The committee, which consisted of a group of voluntary faculty and staff that care about DACA and self-identified undocumented students, is transitioning into a task force focused on developing institutionalized solutions.
Since its inception, USSC has been committed to addressing immediate and serious problems that undocumented students and students within DACA face. According to Dr. Lynn Verduzco-Baker, associate professor of anthropology and sociology, as more undocumented and DACA students arrived at Albion, the students felt safe with certain faculty members to disclose their status and their difficulties on campus.
“These staff and faculty started talking to each other, so then we realized ‘wait, we should be working together.’” said Verduzco-Baker. “We began to work together to support our students that were coming to us individually with concerns and questions about their undocumented status and their safety on-campus as well as access to resources.”
According to Verduzco-Baker, as faculty and staff began to meet, the committee got Albion College to clarify what the policy was in case Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) came to campus: contact Campus Safety director Ken Snyder immediately. USSC also worked with Campus Safety to clarify that their officers would not ask students any questions concerning their citizenship status.
USSC also worked on educating the college on supporting students with DACA as well as undocumented students when it came to financial aid, programs that require air travel and healthcare.
In June 2020, Mathew Johnson, Albion College president, announced the requirement of health insurance prior to arriving on campus for the fall 2020 semester. According to Verduzco-Baker, USSC worked with the college to find a health insurance plan for DACA and undocumented students that cannot afford health insurance since they are unable to apply for Medicaid.
“The administration agreed to subsidize that to make it a little cheaper,” said Verduzco-Baker. “We would’ve preferred for it to be free but it’s better than anything that had existed before.”
In June 2020, the Trump administration issued an emergency rule that barred DACA and undocumented college students from accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid, also known as the CARES Act. In May 2021, the Biden administration announced that it will allow both DACA and undocumented college students to access the relief aid.
Mauricio Perez Garcia, Dallas junior, has been involved with USSC since fall 2019 as a student representative. Perez Garcia explained that USSC spent the summer working with Albion College to also provide undocumented students with emergency finacial aid grants other students received after the regulation was issued by the Department of Education.
“Hopefully many, if not all, of them were able to receive it,” said Perez Garcia. “I think that’s the biggest success in one of our concerns that we were able to push for the college to do effectively.”
The Task Force
Elizabeth Barrios, assistant professor of Spanish and co-chair of the new task force, has been a part of USSC since its inception. A key issue Barrios highlighted concerning the decision of developing the USSC into a task force is the committee’s ad hoc status, which only allows the committee to offer solutions and advice to Albion College.
“One of the challenges of USSC as it stands is that it’s not a fully officially recognized committee,” said Barrios. “The bad thing about it is that with the turnover of staff and the retirement of professors; if the key people leave, it sort of leaves the committee without a way of moving forward.”
Barrios explains that an initial goal of the task force is to unite USSC faculty and staff members, administrators and students.
“The difference between this and the committee is that the committee consists of volunteers and this one includes higher administrators at the college level that have agreed to create the task force,” said Barrios.
Shannon O’Neill, associate dean of student success, will be serving on the task force as well. O’Neill believes that the creation of a new task force will also help institutionalize the concerns and problems DACA and undocumented students face.
“These policies and practices need to be institutionalized so they don’t fall into the cracks,” said O’Neill. “The committee was not an official committee and so in order for there to be the power to change policy, practice and protocol, it should go through the formal process. A task force evaluates the barriers, best practices and rationale for proposing that change. It’s a much more solutions-oriented entity that has institutional backing.”
According to Barrios, the task force might be replaced by a new committee or a new staff member, depending on what the task force deems appropriate by the end of the academic school year. A goal is to fulfill positions in response to faculty and staff that either retire or depart from Albion College in order to continue to address the needs and concerns of undocumented and DACA students.
Alongside Barrios, Ron Mourad, provost, will co-chair the task force with a focus on Albion College policy. Aside from O’Neill, faculty and staff members in the task force will also include Leroy Wright, dean of students; Sharese Mathis, assistant dean of Campus Life; Cristen Casey, director of the Center for International Education; Marcie Noble, Spanish staff lecturer; a staff member from the admissions department; a staff member from Campus Safety; and a staff member from the financial aid department.
Perez Garcia hopes to be involved with the task force as a student member but wants to see diversity in the task force, such as including undocumented students that were not granted DACA status.
“I do come from a place of privilege with DACA and sometimes my narrative or perspective doesn’t narrate the perspective of others,” said Perez Garcia. “I’m more than willing to be a representative but I would alarm the task force to be more diverse.”
Barrios hopes the task force will bring more resources to campus, such as Germán Cardenas, a psychologist centered on the mental health of DACA and undocumented students, as well as Juan Freitez, a Venezuelan filmmaker who directed “Salud Sin Papeles: Health Undocumented,” a documentary centered on undocumented immigrants navigating healthcare in the U.S.
Verduzco-Baker will be unable to serve on the task force this semester. However, Verduzco-Baker wants to see the task force institutionalized.
“So that no matter which staff or faculty are employed at Albion College, this group of students is being served and this group of students has a voice,” said Verduzco-Baker.
Students interested in serving on the task force can contact Elizabeth Barrios at firstname.lastname@example.org. The new task force is expected to meet sometime before the end of the fall 2021 semester.