DACA’s repeal left undocumented students in legal limbo. UF is neglecting to provide them institutional support.

Illustration by Anika Huda.

In October, the University of Florida allowed Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, to speak on campus. In a statement, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote, “if you are like me, I expect you are surprised and even shocked to learn that UF is required by law to allow Mr. Spencer to speak.”

The key phrase here is “by law.”

Fuchs used the same phrase in September, in a statement supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after its termination by the Trump administration.

“We do not collect or provide information on immigration status,” wrote Fuchs, attempting to reassure DACA recipients, “except when required by law,” he added.

It seems when it comes to stopping white supremacists or upholding its duties to undocumented students, UF is quick to cite the law.

“The statement was not ‘we will stand with our students,’” said Jane, a DACA recipient who preferred not to be identified. “It was like, ‘we will stand with our students until we can’t anymore because we have to cover our own asses.’”

Jane, a political science and African-American studies major, was born in Honduras. She grew up in Florida never imagining she could attend the state’s flagship institution of higher learning. Adjusting to college proved difficult for Jane, who has a vastly different life experience from other students, 47 percent of whom are in the top 20 percent of income earners, according to the New York Times.

Like other undocumented students, Jane is ineligible for most scholarships or any form of financial aid, including the Pell Grant and Bright Futures.

“If the federal government dropped a penny in front of me, it would turn around and pick it up so I wouldn’t get that penny,” she said.

Jane’s parents work extra jobs so she can be a full-time student during the school year. These sacrifices place a huge mental burden on her—and the pressure to succeed is even heavier.

“I get one chance, and I don’t get to fuck it up,” she said.

Giancarlo Tejeda, a biomedical engineering major, is a student activist who advocates for immigrant rights.

Like Jane, Tejeda is burdened by funding concerns for his education. Now that DACA has been terminated, Tejeda is anxious he may not even be able to stay in the country.

“There are a lot of extra worries that occupy my time, so I don’t necessarily have time to go to football games,” he said.

The university’s indifference to undocumented students goes back to 2014, when Florida passed House Bill 851, giving certain undocumented students the ability to pay in-state tuition at state universities.

“The statement was not ‘we will stand with our students,’” said Jane, a DACA recipient who preferred not to be identified. “It was like, ‘we will stand with our students until we can’t anymore because we have to cover our own asses.’”

This legislation aimed to help undocumented students, but UF did not implement the policy until it was pressured by student organizations like CHISPAS.

“It was on us to take the students by the hand and take them to the administration and show [UF] how to process these students,” said Mariana Castro, a neurobiology major and DACA recipient who was part of the campaign.

Castro said the administration was not aware of DACA and was asking students for the wrong documentation, despite the new law.

“We haven’t done well by our undocumented students,” said Diana Moreno, assistant director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs. “It’s simply a fact.”

Moreno said other universities, like those in Texas and California, do a better job of supporting their undocumented students. She cited UC Berkeley, which has a fully staffed resource center specifically for undocumented students that can answer questions and help with the registration process.

Moreno attempted to create a similar position at UF, but funding for the position only lasted one year because it relied on external financial resources and faced a lack of internal support.

Now, most of Moreno’s undocumented students hear about her through word of mouth, not through institutional means.

While faculty and staff like Moreno can provide emotional support, they aren’t equipped to handle issues like immigration law, which Student Legal Services does not cover.

“We have people come up to us with mental health issues, we have people we are not trained to deal with,” said Rosana Resende, the undergraduate coordinator for the center for Latin American studies. “We have people who come up to us with legal questions that we don’t know because it’s a moving target.”

Resende is one of the few faculty members that occupies herself with helping undocumented students. After Trump terminated DACA, Resende sent Fuchs an email recommending he create a website with resources for students and release a statement of support.

“And he did that, to his credit—the next day it was done,” she said. “I can’t say I’m impressed because I honestly think that’s minimum. So, am I happy? I’m content.”

Moreno said the lack of support for undocumented students begins with the political culture in Tallahassee and UF’s Board of Trustees.

“[The issue of undocumented students] might be too controversial for them,” Moreno says, “They don’t see it as a priority. … If you have resistance at the top, it’s really difficult unless you have movement from the students.”

Undocumented students were afraid to be on campus, and their stories should matter. But if doughnuts will make him talk to us, maybe we can arrange to send a couple dozen to his office.

I interviewed Fuchs on Oct. 19, the day Spencer finally came to campus. He told me UF will work to lobby for a DREAM act to stabilize the status of DACA recipients.

“First off, my personal goal for our university is that we become the number one for dreamer students and undocumented students,” Fuchs said. “Their stories are ones that are the heart of our mission.”

Fuchs was amenable to speaking with me until I asked about how faculty and staff support undocumented students. He reacted rather bizarrely saying, “You’re going to have to let me have your doughnut if you keep asking questions.”

Granted, I was holding a doughnut, and I’m sure it was supposed to be a joke. He eventually answered my question, saying UF needs more funding. 

But as I was preparing to leave, he repeated his joke, saying, “I’m gonna eat your doughnut if you don’t stop asking questions.”

Fuchs was out on campus that day, talking to students who showed up despite Spencer’s event. Maybe he did not expect questions about undocumented students. I thought it was appropriate. After all, white supremacists were on campus that day—people defined by their opposition to immigrants.

It might have been a joke, but one of poor taste. Undocumented students were afraid to be on campus, and their stories should matter. But if doughnuts will make him talk to us, maybe we can arrange to send a couple dozen to his office. •