Carolina Alumni Review 23
that President Donald Trump was phasing
out the program and delegating the fate of
childhood arrivals to a divided Congress.
Nonresident tuition, no aid
Then-President Barack Obama had
made it clear that the policy was a half-measure. “This is not a path to citizenship,”
he said. “It’s not a permanent fix. This is a
temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus
our resources wisely while giving a degree
of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.” A surer fix, Obama
said, would be the passage of the DREAM
Act, which would have offered permanent
residency to some childhood arrivals like
Cisneros. That legislation never passed.
The limitations of DACA in North Carolina have kept enrollment low at Carolina.
Famous for telling prospective students that
if they can get admitted the University will
pull out the stops to help them financially, it
has almost no options for DACA recipients.
By state law, those students pay out-of-state
tuition and cannot receive government
aid. They are not eligible for the Carolina
Covenant, which helps the lowest-income
students with a package that includes federal
and state grants.
The University doesn’t track the num-
ber of DACA recipients among its student
body, but estimates top out in the low two
figures. (It does track citizenship and applies
the nonresident tuition to all students who
do not declare U.S. citizenship.) “We’re able
to support less than 10,” said Rachelle Feld-
man, director of scholarships and student
aid. “There are more than that here. I’m just
not sure how many.”
DACA has been a blessing to many
young immigrants. It has enabled them to
get driver’s licenses and travel locally with-
out breaking the law. It has opened doors
for licensure and employment. And it has
spurred some to continue their education.
“Having DACA status made people more
excited about staying in school because they
had authorization to work afterwards,” said
Hannah Gill ’ 99, director of UNC’s Latino
Migration Project, who has researched the
policy’s impact in North Carolina.
“Once I had DACA, I realized, ‘Wow,
I may actually be able to go to college,’ ”
said Rubi Franco Quiroz, a senior who is
studying to become a medical social worker.
Franco’s family moved to Chapel Hill when
she was 6, escaping drug-cartel violence and
economic hardship in the Mexican border
town of Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
By elementary school she was thinking
about college and participating in math
competitions and cheerleading. She received
DACA protection during high school, and
the benefits started accruing immediately.
She worked legally at a pizza restaurant,
where she earned enough to pay for clothes,
school supplies and a car. Later, when she
was an undergraduate, she was able to visit
Mexico to see her grandmother, who has
breast cancer and heart disease, without fear
of being apprehended at the border.
If DACA offered some comfort to students like Franco and Cisneros, that feeling
started dissolving during the 2016 presidential race. In August, then-candidate Trump
promised to “immediately terminate” the
policy, which he described as an unconstitutional amnesty. “Anyone who has entered
the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” the Republican nominee said
during a speech in Phoenix, reiterating a
2015 pledge. “That is what it means to have
laws and to have a country.”
After the election, Trump softened his
rhetoric. “We’re going to show great heart,”
he said in February. “DACA is a very, very
difficult subject for me … because you have
these incredible kids in many cases.” But
news reports kept the alert level high at Carolina. Last winter — in one of several similar cases — federal agents near Seattle arrested DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina
as he slept on his father’s sofa, then detained
him for six weeks. The government claimed
the 23-year-old was a “self-admitted gang
member.” Ramirez and his lawyers called
this a fabrication, saying that agents mistook
a tattoo honoring his Mexican birthplace.
In July, 10 state attorneys general threatened to sue the government if Trump
didn’t rescind DACA. That set the stage for
Sessions’ September announcement: that
Trump would end the program “in light of
imminent litigation” over executive power.
gress would enact its own protections within
Chancellor Carol L. Folt called Trump’s
decision contrary to “Carolina’s heartfelt
commitment to all members of our community” and called on Congress to enact a
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina
Republican, immediately announced new
legislation to provide a “fair and rigorous
path” to legal status for undocumented children. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican; and Sen. Dick Durbin, an
Illinois Democrat, vowed a renewed push to
pass the DREAM Act.
“Do not give up hope,” Durbin said after
Hope, for some, has been in short supply,
though. “That’s a scary thought: that we
won’t be able to work in what we spent our
entire lives working towards,” Franco said.
Compounding her fear is the fact that applying for DACA meant disclosing personal
data. “All my information’s in there. What’s
an easier pool of people to grab than the
Learning his own history
José Cisneros graduated as his high
school’s valedictorian in 2013. He already
had visited Chapel Hill, which became his
“dream school.” He felt a sense of community on campus and appreciated the University’s academic reputation. Staff members
addressed his immigration status forthrightly
When applying to colleges, he said, “it
finally hit me all the difficulties that came
with being undocumented.” With tuition
high and aid scarce, he worried that maybe
his hard work would come to nothing. But
Cisneros proved fortunate: He was named to
the first class of Golden Door Scholars, the
product of a South Carolina-based nonprofit
that helps high-achieving undocumented
students with school funding. He also received a privately funded merit-based scholarship from the University. Between the
two, he had won a full ride to Carolina.
He arrived unsure about his career plans.
He declared a history major — he had “al-
ways been in love” with the subject — and
as a freshman took Associate Professor Kath-
ryn Burns’ survey course “Latin America
“I really didn’t know about my own his-
tory. What interested me was how we group
‘Deportation was always a
looming dark cloud above
— José Cisneros ’ 17