UPPER EAST SIDE — Hunter College is opening its doors — and coffers — to help student "Dreamers" renew their temporary legal status allowing them to work and study in the U.S., despite an uncertain future.
On Tuesday, student advocates and school faculty hosted a hands-on event to provide students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with every tool to renew their status ahead of the looming deadline — including the hefty application fee.
Hunter students left the "DACA renewal fair" with a ready-to-mail renewal application, including a professional passport photo and a $495 check addressed to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, courtesy of the Hunter College Foundation.
“Watching our students faces as they learned that the $500 would be provided for them was a powerful reminder that we can help make a difference in the lives of these students,” said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab.
DACA, the 2012 executive action issued by President Obama, protects children brought to the U.S. by undocumented parents and allows applicants to work and study in the U.S. On Sept. 5, the Trump administration announced its intention to roll back the program and issued a one-month renewal deadline for applicants whose current visas expire on or before March 5.
The decision left some students, many of whom are paying their own way through school, in a logistical and financial bind, said on-site immigration lawyer Karyn Schiller.
“Students feel very insecure right now,” said Schiller, who described the attendees as "desperate to contribute and become productive members of society."
School officials estimated that there are about 650 Dreamers and undocumented students enrolled at Hunter, noting that the school does not require students to reveal their status. About 20 students attended the fair and left with completed applications, school faculty said. The Hunter College Foundation is also offering to reimburse fees for students who have already reapplied, school officials noted.
“DACA doesn't have one face — it's a diverse pool of students,” said Jennifer Pineros, a paralegal and Hunter alumni who volunteered at the event. "But we're always living in limbo."
The fair was also organized by the Dream Team, a student-led immigrant advocacy group on campus whose members regularly face backlash on social media.
“Just this morning, I got a hate-tweet,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of attracting similar messages.
Students said that while they’ve felt largely supported on campus and the club has stirred up awareness about DACA among their friends, outreach remains a critical component for reaching more undocumented students.
“People are very private about it," said Hunter senior Ester Rim, who said many of her undocumented classmates try to keep their status hidden. "They live in fear, not just for themselves but for their families."