Taking Action: Dreamer Resource Centers Student Support

October 08, 2018

The fight to support undocumented students continues in California and students are at “the center.” Dreamer Resource Centers, to be exact.

Across the California Community College system, Dreamer Resource Centers (or DRCs) have emerged as a key point of institutional contact and support for undocumented students. These centers, which exist across the California Community College system at such schools as Santa Rosa Junior College, Fresno City College, Cabrillo College and others, provide undocumented, Dreamers and Assembly Bill 540 students a safe-environment to secure student services and to find out what resources are available to them.

In order to further support these efforts and to reaffirm its commitment to providing an open and welcoming environment for all students regardless of immigration status, the California Community College’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to declare Oct. 15-19 Undocumented Student Week of Action.

As part of this resolution, the California Community Colleges, in partnership with the Community College League of California, the Student Senate of California Community Colleges, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and other partner organizations, will support planned activities throughout the state and continue to advocate for a permanent, federal immigration solution that codifies a pathway to citizenship.

Across the state, this student-led campaign will hold events to raise awareness about the social and political issues surrounding immigration policy and undocumented students.

While DRCs will play a large roll in these “week of action” events, these centers are open year-round to provide such services as AB540 affidavit filing; completing the California Dream Act application; answering basic legal questions; and, most critically, academic guidance, financial aid and scholarship advice.

“Our approach is very student-centered,” Glendale College Dream Resource Center Advisor Anthony Garcia said. “It has to be. Every student and situation is different. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the legal statuses of undocumented students, Dreamers and AB540 students are very different and, thus, they have different needs. The legal landscape is very fluid right now, so it is our job to assess their current situations and then provide them with the resources they need to achieve their academic and personal goals.”

Providing versatile services to such a unique group requires flexibility and follow-up, according to Hoover Zariani, manager of the Community and Multicultural Center at Glendale College and co-founder of the college’s Dream Resource Center.

“We recently had a student come in who wanted to complete his student service learning hours,” Zariani said. “He was undocumented himself but had recently married and was pursuing citizenship via his spouse. However, volunteering at a hospital required a fingerprint and a background check, and he had concerns that that might negatively impact his ongoing Visa application. I didn’t know the answer, but I know someone who does. So, I’ll follow up and we’ll figure out the best solution.”

Given the rapidly evolving landscape surrounding immigration policy, finding and understanding best solutions can be difficult, especially when there is no infrastructure in place to support them. Some colleges have solved this problem by bringing in professional experts.

“Dream Resource Centers and designated liaisons are an important piece of the puzzle because they help establish a central point of contact,” Sylvia Juarez said, an educational consultant for San Bernardino Valley College who was hired to help support undocumented students. “It’s not just students who have questions, its staff and faculty and community members who all want to make good on their desire to help undocumented students but may not know how.”

Juarez emphasizes that while there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for campuses, there is a lot to be gained by sharing information about what is working and what is not. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Valley Community College District formed a Dream Resource Center Coalition, which brings together key advisors from Dream Resource Centers and programs across the district to discuss common concerns and share best practices.

In order to support these efforts, the Chancellor’s Office has recently partnered with the Foundation for California Community Colleges and Immigrants Rising to establish the Dreamer Advisory Committee, which will conduct a system-wide survey of existing services and hold regional meetings with colleges in order to lay the groundwork for a longer-term program designed to help undocumented students stay and succeed in school.

“These are really important spaces to have… especially given the current political climate,” Garcia added. “It’s important for us, as educators, to show that we’re in the fight with them, together, and that we support their success.”

While the federal government’s stand on immigration remains frustrating and offensive to the majority of Californians, the California Community College’s Chancellor’s office and the Board of Governors reasserts its commitment to standing with those students and allies who are “taking action” to raise awareness about the opportunities for all Californians, regardless of immigration status, to enroll and succeed in postsecondary education.

For more information about the Dreamers Project visit their web page on the Foundation for California Community Colleges site.

Colleges wanting to participate in Undocumented Student Week of Action can find a toolkit of resources here.