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Cuesta’s undocumented student population drops

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Recent ICE raids spark fear locally, following arrests made in Santa Maria.
Photo courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement


By Chris Bremer
Copy Editor/Online Editor

Cuesta is expected to have fewer undocumented students this semester than in previous years due to fear from harsher immigration policies.

Cuesta College’s population of about 570 undocumented students is dwindling following increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids issued ordered by the Trump administration, according to aides for Cuesta’s undocumented students.

“We don’t want to stop student education because of fear,” said Estelle Vazquez, an enrollment specialist for Cuesta and assigned contact for undocumented students seeking assistance.

Even though Cuesta provides services for undocumented students, it is not a designated sanctuary campus as to not risk a loss in funding. A sanctuary campus or city doesn’t uphold federal immigration laws, often leading to the removal of federal funding.

San Luis Obispo is not considered a sanctuary city for the same reason. However, SLO’s city council recently instructed police not to use city funds or resources to apprehend anyone solely for immigration violations, unless required by state or federal law.

Most undocumented students at Cuesta College are here legally, utilizing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, as well as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act, or the DREAMers act, to seek an education and stay in the country. Those students should not be afraid of ICE, Vazquez states.

“There’s a lot of people out here that are undocumented for reasons being that it’s really frickin’ hard to legally be a US citizen, it takes a long time,” said Brooke Langston, a Cuesta College student. “Thus, [during] that time while they’re waiting, it’s not fair for their children not to be able to go to school.”

Cuesta College recently joined the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success, alongside Allan Hancock College and Cal Poly SLO, who state:

“We are dedicated to creating and sustaining a support system for students who are AB 540/undocumented and ensuring educational equity for all students,” according to CCC-USS official website.

AB 540 is a California state law that permits undocumented students who meet certain requirements to pay in-state tuition fees at any UC, CSU or California community college.

“The [CCC-USS] creates a sense of community and support,” Vazquez said. “It informs the community that [undocumented students] are here and can get an education. With education, students can work and have more success.”

Despite the support, Cuesta is not considered a sanctuary campus.

“We are a community college and we get funding from the federal government,” said Danna Tejada-Baquero, an enrollment specialist for Cuesta. “We want students to feel safe.”

A subpoena would be needed for anyone to access undocumented student information through Cuesta, Tejada-Baquero added.

Some students and staff speculate that fear is causing less of their undocumented peers to attend Cuesta.

“Possibly because [undocumented students] feel afraid and scared that even their own friends might turn against them, so they don’t feel secure just coming here,” said LeAnne Nguyen, a first year psychology major at Cuesta. “It’s actually really sad, […] everybody is just coming here to learn, I think they should have the opportunity to do that.”

The new immigration policies of the Trump administration have had a visible effect on Vazquez’s community, noting that families and individuals are being a lot more cautious.

Soon after the signing of the Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements executive order, individuals throughout the Santa Barbara County – including Santa Maria – were arrested and detained by ICE, according to ICE Public Affairs Officer/Spokeswoman Lori K. Haley.

Students should not be concerned by this happening at Cuesta, Vazquez states. Cuesta police officials wouldn’t give personal information to ICE if undocumented students were ticketed or arrested, she continued.

The Cuesta Police Department will not “detain, question, or arrest any individual based solely on immigration status,” and will continue upholding its mission to create a “safe learning environment with equal protection,” according to Bryan Millard, Cuesta’s police chief.

“We are very pleased that there is a support system here at Cuesta,” Vazquez said. “[…] The CCC-USS can help families who need more information.”