Luis Fernandez Ruiz is, in many ways, just another typical USF student. You might see him on the seventh floor of Hayes-Healy, hanging out with friends. Or walking around main campus, where he is thankful all of his classes are, so he doesn’t have to walk up the Lone Mountain stairs. But unlike most students at USF, the ability of Ruiz to work and live in the U.S. hangs over the status of a single policy: DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This Obama-era policy grants documentation — for renewable two year periods — to persons who moved to the U.S. under the age of 16.
On Sept. 5 President Donald Trump’s administration announced its decision to rescind DACA. On the same day, USF President Rev. Father Paul Fitzgerald sent out a campus-wide email in response to the announcement. He condemned Trump’s decision and promised to increase efforts to protect undocumented students. He also encouraged the USF community to contribute to the Magis Scholarship, a fund established last year that specifically supports undocumented students. The scholarship currently covers tuition, fees and on-campus housing.
Another resource Fr. Fitzgerald included in his email was USF’s Task Force to Support Undocumented Students. “We’re a group of faculty members, staff, and students,” said Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, co-chair of the task force. “We have undocu-DACA ally-training and resources for policy changes … [the task force] tries to answer, ‘how as a university can we help these students?’”
“I was very heartened that [Fr. Fitzgerald’s] email mentioned not just scholarship loss, but also wage losses,” said Negrón-Gonzales. “It also addressed DACA students a nd undocumented students.”
The task force published a list of strong recommendations on Sept. 5. One of them addressed DACA students potentially losing their ability to work in the U.S. Under DACA, students hold work visas. Without DACA and their documented status, they would be unable to work taxed-income jobs.
The task force proposed looking into non-taxed-income jobs. “One option is looking into alternative ways to compensate individuals, such as by paying them as independent contractors or converting wages to scholarship/fellowship aid.”
Fr. Fitzgerald was asked if undocumented students could work for pay at the university. “Everyone who works for the University of San Francisco needs to be able to present documentation that they have the legal right to work within the United States.” If a student is undocumented, they would not have that paperwork, and therefore could not work for the university.
He cited the risk of losing federal support like Pell Grants for students and fellowships for professors as a concern.
He explained that whether USF is paying students in stipends or as independent contractors, they still need to prove U.S. citizenship or a visa. “Pay is pay,” said Fitzgerald. “Doesn’t matter. You could give it to them in pennies. You could give it to them in a check. It’s pay.”
However, law professor and director USF Law’s Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Bill Hing refuted this point on whether undocumented students could somehow be paid for on-campus jobs. “Only employment is barred by the employer sanctions laws. Stipends for doing certain things is akin to being an independent contractor, which is not barred by employer sanctions laws.”
Ruiz, a DACA student, went to an event planned by Hing on Sept. 6 that addressed Trump’s DACA announcement and gave students resources for what to do next.
“They basically told us what happened,” he explained. “They also told us USF is working really hard to look into different ways to get money into the school so we can support our DACA students.”
The Defense Clinic will be offering free legal assistance this Friday and Saturday to help DACA students renew their status before the Oct. 5 deadline. It will take place at the USF law school. Students can call to schedule an appointment at: (415) 422-4385.
Student groups are also working to support undocumented and DACA students. Latinas Unidas, a student group focusing on community engagement within the Latinx community, is working on student demands for undocumented and DACA students. They will be working with MEChA, a Latino and Chicano student advocacy group on campus, to create the demands, according to Latinas Unidas President Suri Barcenas.
This story has been edited from its original print edition to reflect the line “He cited the risk of losing federal support like Pell Grants for students and fellowships for professors as a concern.” and changed “The task force published a list of demands…” to “The task force published a list of strong recommendations…”
Featured Photo: Students from Latinas Unidas, a USF organization working towards Latinx community-building, protested President Trump’s pull-back of DACA in the San Francisco march last Tuesday. Courtesy of Suri Barcenas.