BMCC student Jacqueline Aguilar, who now has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, spent 14 years “in the shadows,” she says, as an undocumented immigrant.
“It’s a place so lonely, it literally feels like you are the only one,” she said, and refers to the former U.S. military policy regarding LGBT status — “don’t ask, don’t tell” — because if you tell, she says, you might get deported.
“When you’re undocumented, life is so slim,” says Aguilar, who was brought to the United States from Argentina by her parents in 2002, when she was ten years old. “You can’t work legally. School is harder, because there’s no financial aid. Growing up, I watched my friends get their driver’s license and they were able get jobs, legally, all because of that important [social security] number."
DACA students worry about what comes next
In June 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama enacted DACA, which allowed certain undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, as well as eligibility for a work permit.
Aguilar said she applied for DACA right away and was able to “come out” about her status, even though she thought twice about the trove of personal information she was sending to the government in exchange for two years of documented status.
“I think all DACA students are worried about what will happen after January 20,” said Aguilar. For now, she puts her goals and aspirations in one box, her immigration status in another.
“My long-term goal is to get my degree in documentary film and be successful, but my short-term goal is to inform myself about any changes in immigration policy and create circles of supportive friends.”
BMCC hosts immigration town hall
Aguilar was one of almost 50 BMCC students at an Immigration Town Hall Forum the college hosted on December 6. The event included presentations on immigration law as well as advice by legal experts from Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, (Fragomen) one of the world’s largest immigration law firms.
Students heard the latest information on DACA, tips on residency and filing for citizenship, as well watching a Know Your Rights Power Point presentation. Sponsored by BMCC programs including Single Stop, Year Up and CUNY Start, the event also offered students the chance to ask questions and share their concerns.
No one knows what will become of DACA under the new administration, the legal experts said. Because of this, they advised immigrant students not to apply for DACA if they have not already. They also suggested that students who are up for renewal of their DACA status seek legal advice on a case-by-case basis.
My 12-year old sister is a citizen. I’m not.
Liberal Arts major Diana Lucas was brought to the United States at age three by her parents.
“My mom got a job at a dry cleaners, my dad in construction. They had planned to stay in the United States for a year or two, but they saw the education and other opportunities here were so much better,” said Lucas.
“I worry about my parents, but also about my little sister, who is 12 years old. She was born here and is a citizen. I was thinking we should leave her with family members who have citizenship if my parents and I get deported. I don’t want her to have to forfeit the educational opportunities she could have, if she stayed in this country.”
When Lucas first enrolled at BMCC last year, she was torn between pursuing a career in fashion or becoming a veterinarian.
“Now, I question everything,” said Lucas, who is looking in a different direction altogether. “If I have the opportunity to continue my education in the United States, maybe I can do something to help others like myself.”
“Here, I can practice my religion.”
Salma, a 33-year-old BMCC student majoring in Business Administration, came to New York City three years ago when she married an American citizen. Originally from Morocco, Salma is still waiting for her Green Card.
“I’m Muslim, I wear the hijab and I’m worried about my future here,” she said. “My friends who are Muslim have similar concerns. I worry about my family being able to visit. Before, they would stay with me for months, but now I worry that they won’t even be allowed into the country.”
Since coming to the United States, Salma has not been outside of New York City, which is considered a sanctuary city for immigrants.
“Here, I can practice my religion,” she said. “I never feel as if anyone is looking at me strangely. I want to eventually earn my bachelor's degree and get a job. That’s my plan.”
BMCC offers helpful resources
BMCC Single Stop and Special Services Manager Deborah Harte said her office will closely monitor what happens with the DACA program in the coming weeks. The college will be doing all it can to provide students with assistance during this time of uncertainty.
“BMCC will be hosting a legal clinic in mid-January where students can meet individually with immigration attorneys and discuss their concerns,” said Harte.
For other general questions regarding immigration policy, students can visit Immigrationhelp.org. For students seeking free legal help, ActionNYC offers assistance in several languages in communities across the city.
BMCC students can also visit or contact the Single Stop Office at (212) 220-8195.