Throughout the presidential election, hot topic issues such as marriage equality and women’s rights were discussed. However, none was so heatedly debated as undocumented immigrants.
Cal Poly has nearly 200 undocumented students currently attending the university. However, political science and history senior Erik Garcia said this number could be higher due to students not wishing to disclose their citizenship status.
“I remember when I came to campus two years ago, I literally thought I could possibly be the only undocumented student here on campus,” Garcia said. “The issue we have is there is no real list, which is for good reason so you just can’t find them.”
While it makes sense that there is not a general list of all undocumented students at Cal Poly posted online, it makes it difficult for them to come together and help each other, Garcia said.
“One of those problems we have is we can’t contact them,” Garcia said. “There is no information out there for us, but we want to reach out and tell them about the resources there are.”
Garcia came to the U.S. when he was only one year old. He’s lived in the U.S. his entire life and said he considers himself as American as his peers. He played sports in high school and was able to transfer into Cal Poly after completing community college. Garcia is also the president of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education (RISE), which works as a peer support group to help allocate resources for undocumented students at Cal Poly.
Garcia said he didn’t know he was undocumented until later on in life.
“It wasn’t until I was in middle school, or even freshman year is when I started noticing,” Garcia said. “People were starting to get their license and also when people started to apply for college. Anything that required a social security number. But I still consider myself American.”
Casey McCullough works in the Undocumented Student Working Group office at Cal Poly. This office is comprised of faculty, staff and administrators who support undocumented students. It is a place for support, providing resources and networks for undocumented students. McCullough helps train faculty and staff on undocumented students. The office also works as a liaison between undocumented students and the campus community.
“Throughout the training, we do have times where we ask students what do they want faculty and staff to know,” McCullough said. “We share that with those people who go through the training, so that is sort of an aspect of being a liaison.”
During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump outlined a new immigration plan that is the polar opposite of President Barack Obama’s stance on immigration. He has threatened to cancel Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order signed by the current president that gives undocumented immigrants the ability to receive work permits and driver’s licenses in addition to allocating some federal funding to support higher education.
“Financial barriers are one of the barriers that we’ve identified as one of the most significant barriers for undocumented students,” McCullough said. “So being able to work really helps students finance their college, pay for living expenses and potentially help family members back at home.”
Days after the presidential election, many cities and universities announced they would remain “sanctuaries” for undocumented persons. CSU Chancellor Timothy White issued a statement about the CSU system’s stance on undocumented students. White did not outline an overall concrete stance but instead allowed each campus to create their own policy due to the diversity of the universities.
According to University Spokesman Matt Lazier, the University Police Department follows the directives that come from the chancellor’s office. Lazier simplified the CSU’s policy in an email to Mustang News.
“The CSU will not enter into agreements with state or local law enforcement agencies, Homeland Security or any other federal department for the enforcement of federal immigration law; our university police departments will not honor immigration hold requests; and our university police do not contact, detain, question or arrest individuals solely on the basis of being or suspected of being a person that lacks documentation,” Lazier said.
Unlike other universities, Cal Poly’s administration does not use the term “sanctuary campus.”
“The definition of ‘sanctuary’ is unclear and lacks a standard definition, and could create confusion for students,” Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said. “It is critical that Cal Poly remains and continues to enhance its efforts to be safe and welcoming for all students, including undocumented students. It’s one of the reasons we announced that the DREAM Center will open for undocumented students in Winter Quarter.”
The DREAM center will be a central place for undocumented students to receive resources and support. According to McCullough, undocumented students do not have an easy place to get help. They have to go to different offices around campus to receive different services.
Humphrey emphasized the administration’s support of undocumented students at Cal Poly.
“Undocumented students are Cal Poly students, just like everyone else,” Humphrey said. “They were admitted under the same standards, take the same classes and earn the same degrees. They are part of our Mustang family and should be supported the same [way] students support all other student groups.”
For more information about resources and support for undocumented students, email [email protected]