Undocumented at Tufts in Trump’s America

Members of Tufts United for Immigrant Justice speak to students and community members during a rally demanding that Tufts become a sanctuary campus, following a campus-wide walkout, on Nov. 16. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

As more students of undocumented status have joined the Tufts community, the movement to address the needs of these students continues to gain momentum on campus, especially considering that the issue of immigration is central to the president-elect’s platform, according to Associate Dean for Student Success and Advising Robert Mack.

Mack is a major point of contact for undocumented students at Tufts.

“For our current undocumented students at Tufts, I have an opportunity to meet with them as an advising group, which provides a chance to bring [these] first-year students together,” Mack said. “In a bigger sense, my position is as much about the University and our policies as [it is about] bridging the gap for our [undocumented] students and their four-year experience here.”

He added that a new dimension of fear due to the election of Donald Trump is already visible to him when he interacts with these students.

“Rightfully, the students have vocalized their fears on the election, and I think those are very understandable, since Trump has been very vocal on the issue of immigration, and specifically deportation,” Mack said.

According to Mack and the students interviewed for this article, around half of the undocumented students at Tufts have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. The Department of Homeland Security describes DACA as a means to “ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines,” according to its website

Mack knows that Trump has announced his desire to revoke DACA throughout his campaign, and because Trump likely has the authority to reverse DACA under executive order, he sees the risk of deportation as a legitimate fear for students.

“I think the opportunities for people of undocumented status who were being supported by [the government] or by Tufts have all now been put into jeopardy,” he said. “I think their fear really lives around what this means for them and their families.”

“I don’t know where is the safest place to be”

Diego Espinoza, an undocumented student at Tufts, explained some of the struggles he has experienced as a result of his undocumented status. He pinpointed specific events and fears that hang over the head of an undocumented person that someone with citizenship status does not necessarily have to worry about.

Espinoza, a sophomore, said he lost his sense of security in the wake of Trump’s presidency and in spite of Tufts’ commitment to protect its undocumented students. A San Diego native, Espinoza is wrestling with where he should be when Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20, and hasn’t bought his ticket for a return flight after winter break.

“I am currently trying to weigh whether I should stay at home with my family or come here,” Espinoza said. “I definitely want to come here and finish my degree, but I don’t know where is the safest place to be. Something bad could happen here and something bad could happen back at home, and right now I don’t have any idea about what is going to happen.”

He explained how undocumented status plays into applying to and affording college.

“When you get to your senior year of high school, you start seeing what the requirements [for college] are and how some colleges see undocumented students as international, and don’t provide financial aid, or not much. So it does not seem like it is a very viable option,” he said. “It seems very hard. In general, the only schools that provide good funding are top-tier schools that only accept really good students, and not all undocumented students can be accepted.”

According to Director of the Latino Center Rubén Stern, undocumented students face difficulty obtaining a part-time job, an internship or federally funded research or aid. 

“We are still working on resources and figuring out the work piece, the internships and the research,” he said.

For example, in order to get a degree in engineering, students must complete a certain amount of research. However, a considerable amount of the funding for this research at Tufts and other universities comes from the federal government. Students of undocumented status are not allowed to touch federal funding, and this restriction has the power to limit undocumented students’ choice of majors, according to Stern.

Regarding high school students trying to apply to college, such as his little brother, Espinoza said he hopes they stay motivated despite Trump’s win. But he understands why many young, undocumented people looking to attend college might feel hopeless at this time.

“For some students, [college] seems extremely far away, and now with the Trump presidency, it seems nearly impossible,” Espinoza said. “I know my little brother is going through a hard time, and … if you feel like [college] is impossible, you might stop working altogether, and that is when things start to go bad. You start to choose other methods of escape and go down other paths that might not lead to a better future.”

“If they wanted to deport you, they have all of the information there”

Espinoza is one of the students at Tufts with DACA. However, he said there are many problems with the policy, even without the threat of Trump revoking it.

He outlined three major issues with DACA. Firstly, the $465 renewal fee: Espinoza explained that that amount of money can be a burden, and builds up quickly when considering families with multiple children and the fact that the application must be renewed every two years. 

Secondly, applying for DACA requires giving the government all of your information, including biometrics, such as fingerprints. Espinoza feels this instills a feeling of fear rather than security for those who apply to DACA.

DACA is supposed to protect you, but technically if they wanted to deport you, they have all of the information there,” he said.

Thirdly, Espinoza believes that DACA does not cover enough people. He said there are still too many people that cannot work legally and do not have all of the benefits that DACA offers.

Espinoza spoke about how important it is for Tufts students to have more conversations about undocumented students and their experiences. He supports the idea of having open discussion about the issue, where different sides can be expressed, accompanied by an underlying respect that enables conversation without any direct attacks or hurtful statements.

“After Trump won, there have been many reports of Trump supporters participating in racist and demeaning acts to people of color, to women, to so many different people, and we do not want to attract that behavior to our campus,” Espinoza said.

According to Espinoza, who’s a member of the student group Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ), UIJ is working to organize teach-ins so that students can better acquaint themselves with what it is like to be an undocumented student on campus and how they can personally evolve as an ally.

Additionally, Espinoza said that UIJ is preparing for a Trump presidency by getting acquainted with his policies and the worst-case scenarios they could create for Tufts students.

“Unfortunately, there is a possibility that some of our students may go to deportation proceedings, so we are trying to figure out how to fight those,” he said. “One of the main concerns is that Trump has been very supportive of mass deportations. We do not know how those are going to go, and we do not know what that entails legally.”

“They don’t hate me directly, but they hate who I am”

According to a first-year of undocumented status, who requested to remain anonymous, undocumented people face different stereotypes and stigmas. She pushed back against those generalizations and stereotypes, emphasizing the diversity present in the undocumented community at Tufts alone.  

“Everyone’s experience is really different, and we have really diverse backgrounds,” she said. “When people talk about undocumented students even here at Tufts, they see me [as] the stereotype of Mexican. I promise you, if you met the other people who I deal with in my undocumented group, your mind would be blown.”

She reported that there is only one person from Mexico in Mack’s 11-person first-year advising group. She described the rest of the students as coming from a diverse range of countries, including countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and Central America.

However, she noted that undocumented students face many common issues, such as finding a job without having citizenship.

“If I want a job, I need to find it myself and that means if I find it myself, it’s probably going to be a low paying job, under the table, and they will probably pay me less than minimum wage,” she said. “You never know if they are going to exploit you, or if they will treat you [badly] just because of your status.”

As an education major, she knows that many programs that work with children require a background check, which she could automatically fail due to her citizenship status and lack of a social security number.

She also spoke about the particular difficulties of undocumented students that exist along with the many stresses and pressures of college life, and how they intersect with other aspects of their identities, such as being the child of immigrants, being a racial minority and/or holding a particular economic status.

“We need to make our parents proud,” she said. “A lot of stuff builds up: as students of color, as poor students. We struggle not only in the classroom, but outside as well.”

Hateful responses and reactions to Trump’s victory that are targeted toward undocumented immigrants have affected her on a personal level, she said.

“Understanding how people can hate us without even knowing who we are, without even knowing our names, our struggles, and where [we] came from, it’s hard,” she said. “When Trump supporters [and the media] talk about those immigrants and those criminals, they are talking about me, and they are talking about my family. They don’t hate me directly, but they hate who I am.”

“I am ready for what he is going to throw at me”

Mario Delgado, an undocumented transfer student who will graduate either with the class of 2018 or 2019, finds Tufts to be an accommodating and accepting campus overall. However, he believes there is a general lack of knowledge or awareness on what it means to be undocumented, and he listed some of the specific issues that many students on campus might not know about.

“The fact that there is no path to citizenship, the actual facts behind what [being undocumented] does to a person and what it limits them from doing, the restrictions and the hurdles that we have to go through …” Delgado said.

Indeed, Stern emphasized the importance of gaining support for undocumented students from the rest of the community, which can be accomplished by better educating students, staff and faculty about what it means to be undocumented.

Delgado also highlighted some of the personal struggles he has faced due to his citizenship status.

“I was out of college for two years trying to find ways to afford college because I could not pay for it,” he said. “I could not receive any federally-funded money, and could not touch a scholarship that had any federal funding.”

Delgado relayed some concerns about what Trump will actually enforce in terms of undocumented immigrants, but maintained a positive outlook about how this administration could be an opportunity for the issue of immigration to be discussed more often.

“I am ready for what he is going to throw at me,” Delgado said. “I think a lot of people [who] are undocumented are.The fear of being separated from your family is the greatest fear that most of us have, but we have gone through so much already and we have overcome obstacles. I see it as an opportunity for the issue of immigration to take the spotlight instead of always just being the sideshow.”

Delgado encouraged all students to ask questions they might have about these issues. He listed UIJ, the Latino Center and the undocumented community at Tufts as resources.

Emphasizing that every undocumented person has a different set of experiences, he described what being undocumented means to him.

“You live in the shadows of society,” he said. “You go through explicit demonstrations of racism against you, you hear the media talk about you like you are a criminal and you get the short end of the stick in all situations because you don’t have a way to be [legally] equal.”

However, looking back at his two years out of college, he sees the necessity of fighting against the limitations placed on undocumented students.

“You have to be resilient and persistent,” he said. “You have to be a fighter.”  


COPYRIGHT 2018 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.