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September 06, 2017

Bunker Hill Community College in Boston enrolls many immigrants, some of them DACA students. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

College leaders are lobbying Congress to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, which the Trump administration plans to phase out.

As the school year begins, undocumented students at a community college in Boston are still reeling from the Trump administration's decision to rescind DACA, but for now they're trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“My students are scared,” said Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, which enrolls a large percentage of students who are immigrants.

“The DACA students are confused. They don’t feel safer,” Eddinger said. “They do not feel like this is their country and they’ve been here since they were children.”

The decision to rescind DACA throws into turmoil the lives of more than 800,000 young people brought to this country illegally as children and granted a grace period to work and study and live in the U.S. Ninety percent of DACA recipients are in school or working, according to a recent study by the Center for American Progress.

"DACA has not only improved the lives of undocumented young people and their families but has also positively affected the economy more generally, which benefits all Americans," wrote political science professor Tom K. Wong of the University of California. 

Bunker Hill Community College didn’t say how many of its 14,000 students are undocumented because it doesn’t track them. But Eddinger, a first-generation Chinese immigrant, says the college is committed to all students, regardless of their status.

“I have a 16-year-old son. I cannot imagine my 16-year-old son being sent back to Hong Kong. Why would anyone do that to a child?” she said. “Why would anyone do that to 800,000 productive young people?”

Bunker Hill, like most schools, is continuing to enroll students without asking them their immigration status. If students are concerned, the college is referring them to immigration experts and social workers.

“Our essential role is to make sure our students can learn,” Eddinger said.

On the first day of school, students were skittish about talking to reporters about their immigration status. Dean of Students Julie Elkins says most undocumented students are just trying to focus on their school work.

“A lot of our students are really trying to take it one day at a time,” she said. “They’re doing the traditional thing of going to class, they’re talking to their friends, but I think they’re also looking over their shoulder. It’s a really hard way to start school.”

Julio, who didn’t want WGBH to use his last name, is a student mentor at Bunker Hill. His parents brought him here illegally from Venezuela when he was 10.

“Venezuela is going through some upheaval politically, so my family decided it was best to cut ties over there,” he said. “My parents thought it was the best bet.”

Julio’s family settled just north of Boston, where he went to public high school. His dad supported the family as a chef and car salesman. When the Obama administration established DACA in 2012, Julio signed up, coming out of the shadows to attend Bunker Hill and to get a work permit.

“I could work legally, which was great,” he said. “Before, it was all under the table, kind of weird stuff. And that was right about the age when you usually start working, so it was perfect.”

Julio says he worked three jobs because as an undocumented student in Massachusetts, he had to pay out-of-state tuition.

Narrow GatewayUndocumented Students Get Access, But Most Don’t Get Aid 

The 28-year-old is disappointed and confused, but he isn’t surprised by President Trump’s decision to end DACA.

“When he was running, he was very vocal about his ideas,” Julio said. “You’re always thinking in the back of your mind like, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ But it happened.”

And now, eight months after he took office, President Trump is calling on Congress to act.

Few students and administrators here in Boston have faith lawmakers will reach a compromise. If he’s forced to leave, Julio says he’d move to Colombia, where he has dual-citizenship.

On Thursday afternoon, faculty members from Harvard, Babson, Boston College and other institutions are planning a non-violent civil disobedience to protest the repeal of DACA, blocking Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.

WGBH's Esteban Bustillos contributed to this report.

College Material: Community Colleges Come Of Age

DACA, increasing access and success, undocumented students, higher ed, bunker hill community college

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