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Immigration law program hosted for DACA, undocumented students

Belinda Zhu / Thresher

By Belinda Zhu     11/28/23 11:23pm

Editor’s Note: Students interviewed were given the option of remaining anonymous in the interest of keeping their citizenship status private. The anonymous students were given false names, which have been marked with an asterisk on first mention.

Rice’s Office of General Counsel hosted an Immigration Law Program for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Undocumented Students in Anderson Hall Nov. 8 in response to DACA being ruled unlawful earlier in September. Partners from the immigration and employment law firm Monty & Ramirez LLP, Carolina Ortuzar-Diaz and Maricela Alvarado, presented at the event and offered free legal consultations for DACA and undocumented students. 

Sam*, an undocumented student who came to the U.S. on a visa, was drawn to the event because of the free legal services offered. 

“Consultations are expensive and the fact that these lawyers are willing to talk to us personally for free was very nice,” Sam, a junior, said. “I’m happy that I have a lawyer who I can go to now. The lawyer I spoke with was nice and informative. It went pretty much as I expected. There’s not a lot lawyers can do because this is a federal issue. It was a little disheartening to hear that I won’t be able to become a citizen unless I marry [a U.S. citizen] or the Supreme Court rules in favor of DACA.” 

Quinn*, another undocumented student who attended the event, said they were interested in the free legal services and appreciated the information provided free of charge. 

“The event was the perfect opportunity for me to access resources that I otherwise couldn’t due to financial and resource barriers,” Quinn, a sophomore, said. “It was also the perfect place for me to ask questions to attorneys and become more informed about my status and what I can do about my situation … I am actually still in contact with [the lawyer I spoke to] right now about my [situation] and where to go next.”

The presentation focused on how to move from DACA to permanent residency. Ortuzar-Diaz said it is crucial to understand DACA and its limitations in order to move forward. 

“DACA [itself] is not a path to anything other than a very limited protection,” Ortuzar-Diaz said at the presentation. “It doesn’t allow you to become a permanent resident even if you’ve had DACA for years. However, if you have DACA, you probably have some tools to become a permanent resident and are eligible to apply for a green card, which you wouldn’t have without [DACA].”

During the session, the speakers discussed two main processes for acquiring a green card: the employment-based process and the family-based process. 

In the employment-based process, an employer petitions to hire immigrants to work for their company, which allows them to move forward with the green card process. Similarly, in the family-based process, a direct family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions for a prospective immigrant. 

Ortuzar-Diaz said rules regarding which family members can petition are very strict. 

“They only allow for very direct family members [to petition], including your [siblings] over the age of 18 if they are a U.S. citizen, father or mother if they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, a spouse if they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or your children if they are over the age of 21 and a U.S. citizen,” Ortuzar-Diaz said. “That’s it.”

When applying for a green card, there are two processes: adjustment of status and consular process. According to Ortuzar-Diaz, the adjustment of status process allows for DACA recipients and undocumented students to become permanent residents without leaving the U.S., while the consular process requires recipients to leave the U.S. and apply for an immigrant visa before returning as a permanent resident.

Quinn said the event was a step in the right direction for Rice’s support for undocumented students. 

“Last year definitely didn’t feel like there was much support for us,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t until this year that I saw things like the undocumented task force and groups that were here to support us. There should definitely be more events like this. There should also be someone on campus just for undocumented and DACA students so we can have someone to talk to.”

Sam said Rice’s support for undocumented students could be better. They said most of the programs they’ve seen — such as the undocumented task force — are student-led and require more institutional support. 

“Over the summer, I had a paid internship on campus. I told them that I was an undocumented student and that I couldn’t be formally hired, and asked if there was any way I could get a stipend or fellowship so I could still work there,” Sam said. “They said they didn’t know and asked me to ask around. I emailed the Office of International Students and a bunch of other offices, and they were very unhelpful and kept referring me to different offices. I had to figure it out myself which was very frustrating.”

Sam emphasized the need for a full-time worker at Rice to support DACA and undocumented students.

“There is no single point of contact for undocumented students,” Sam said. “They refer me to the office for international students, but we’re not international. We’re here in the U.S. We were raised here.”

Marjorie Cerejo, OISS interim program director for undergraduates and key advisor for DACA/undocumented students, said OISS reaches out to students who self-identify as needing resources.

“OISS offers these students support, including, if they wish, meetings with an advisor to discuss immigration matters and the experience of being new to Rice,” Cerejo wrote in an email to the Thresher. “OISS also invites students for orientations, tax workshops, and other information sessions throughout the semester.”

Cerejo said OISS has planned future events for undocumented/DACA students, such as the 2024 SUCCESS Convening in March.

“This is a national event sponsored by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration,” Cerejo wrote. “It will bring together scholars, advocates, and students to focus on supporting the educational and career equity outcomes for undocumented students, including non-employment-based experiential learning models, pathways to graduate and professional programs, and career development for undocumented students.”

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