Future is uncertain for undocumented students

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I’m a mentor for a college freshman through the East Bay College Fund — an organization that helps public school students, under-represented in higher education, succeed in college by providing guidance and scholarships. My student attended the Lighthouse Charter High School in Oakland, where he did very well and is now attending U.C. Berkeley, working on a degree in computer science.

My student is Hispanic and undocumented. He’s in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA. The federal program offers deferred action for a period of two years to a class of people who came to the United States as children. It has many advantages, such as allowing them to get Social Security cards, work permits, driver’s licenses and credit cards. In short, it gives them the ability to function in the U.S. without granting them legal status.

Before the election, I met with my student and he told me how nervous he and his family were about a potential Donald Trump victory. I told him not to worry — there’s no way that Trump would be elected. Reeling from the results, he was one of the first people I reached out to after the election. I tried to offer some consolation and referred him to the appropriate campus organizations, as well as other resources that all lead to the same response: We don’t know what will happen.

But we do know a few things. Trump said that he would repeal DACA, and it would be easy for him to do that because it was created via executive order. Now, nearly one million young immigrants face a worrying situation. In addition to possibly losing their jobs and other benefits, they’ve provided authorities the information needed to locate, detain and ultimately deport them and their families.

I can’t help but relate this to my family’s history. My parents were refugees from Hitler’s Germany. My mother’s house was stormed during Kristallnacht, and her father was carted off to Dachau. Luckily, they were able to get visas to come to America; my grandfather was released, and they soon boarded a boat to the U.S.

Whenever those images come up, I try to push them away. I tell myself this is a completely different context and time in history. Many of these Hispanic families are not refugees, but came here for other reasons. Still, the similarities abound — the bigotry and xenophobia propagated by a leader who appears to be nothing less than a megalomaniac.

I try to be optimistic about America’s future. We have our checks and balances, and a Constitution that will hopefully prevent Trump from enacting some of the incendiary ideas he presented during his campaign. But we also know how fragile civil liberties are, and how we often have to fight to protect them. That’s my battle cry — as it has always been — but now I will respond with greater urgency.

Stewart Florsheim
Stewart Florsheim

Stewart Florsheim has published several books of poetry, including “Ghosts of the Holocaust,” an anthology of poetry by children of Holocaust survivors. He lives in Piedmont.