While Fresno State’s faculty and staff assembly on Thursday focused on historic fund-raising efforts, plans to increase graduation rates and a renewed commitment to research, it was political science professor Tom Holyoke’s opening speech about the school’s undocumented students that received the most applause.
“Denying them the right to pursue their dreams through a university education is, in my mind, a social tragedy,” Holyoke, the chairman of Fresno State’s Academic Senate, said at the event held at the Save Mart Center. “The burden right now is especially hard on our ‘dreamer’ students who have become political footballs as our leaders in Washington spar over immigration policy. Who can learn when too many of our leaders are interested in politics and threatening to deport our students?”
The fate of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, has been up in the air in recent months. The Trump administration announced the program will end in March, stripping young immigrants of their work permits and the ability to go to college. But on Wednesday, a federal judge issued a temporary ruling that aimed to keep DACA recipients, known as “dreamers,” protected from deportation for now. Reports on Thursday said a bipartisan deal had been reached to protect young immigrants, but also increase border security.
As the country waits for a solution, the issue is especially present at Fresno State, which operates a Dream Success Center and a Dream Outreach Center for more than 600 undocumented students who are enrolled.
“We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a university education is the gateway to better jobs, much higher salaries and better lives and living conditions all around. Education reduces the income inequalities in our society; it enriches our culture ...” Holyoke said. “All of us need to pressure our local legislators to find, once and for all, some kind of comprehensive immigration reform to give security – to give stability to our dreamer students, to all of our students, so they can focus on their education. All of this makes for some pretty big tasks this year.”
Fresno State President Joseph Castro gave a special recognition to the university’s dream centers during Thursday’s event, and said “in the current political climate,” the school is offering counseling and legal services to undocumented students and their families while keeping an eye on any federal announcements. Nearly 70 percent of Fresno State students are first-generation college students, and many of them have parents who are undocumented immigrants.
Castro said he recently met with a roomful of DACA recipients to talk about the future, and has contingency plans in place in case the program is abruptly ended.
“There’s a lot of work happening each day to make sure each of our dreamers has the support that they need to succeed. Certainly they’re apprehensive about the situation,” Castro said. “I’m concerned but I’m optimistic that over the last few days there have been bipartisan discussions in Washington. My hope is that we will have a resolution to this very soon.”