DENVER — Estéfani Peña Figueroa remembers the challenges of college applications and scholarships after graduating high school a few years ago. Now that she is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), also known as a "dreamer," she said she's able to navigate life a little easier.
"But back then, it was a huge challenge, because there weren’t a lot of scholarships that were eligible for undocumented students and not a lot of financial aid, not a lot of resources," she said.
Peña Figueroa graduated with her bachelor's degree from Metropolitan State University Denver (MSU Denver) in December 2020 and is now a Student Success Specialist for the university's Immigrant Services Program.
Part of her role consists of helping students navigate scholarships for DACA and undocumented students. Her job is that much more critical following the ruling from a federal judge in Texas that halted approval of new and pending DACA applications.
"We’re back where we first started," said Peña Figueroa. "I am devastated, but not surprised, we’ve been navigating all of this since 2016 and again in 2017 when DACA was rescinded for the first time."
In the recent weeks following the ruling, Peña Figueroa has offered her empathy and support to DACA students who come by her office seeking guidance in the next steps in their college journey.
"It's hard as a DACA recipient who not only gets affected directly, but also you know, I have family members who apply for the first time and then also students," she said. "I have to really emphasize that we’re human and we have all the rights to have a human life and environment but it cannot happen because we don’t have a permanent pathway to citizenship."
Peña Figueroa said being a DACA recipient often feels like walking on thin ice.
"You don’t know if the next step you’re gonna fall into that cold water, you never know because we’re always in limbo."
She said she wants to obtain her master's degree eventually, but can only plan for her future two years in advance at a time. Dreamers are required to renew their permits every two years.
Her colleague Pablo Chaviro-Nieto, another MSU Denver DACA graduate, shared similar frustrations with the recent ruling.
"It could be worse, but it's a stressful situation," he said. "I feel like they're playing with people's lives."
Without protection from DACA, thousands of Dreamers across the country are at risk of losing their work permits.
"There’s many other undocumented DACA students out there who are our nurses, who are our teachers, and if tomorrow DACA ends, we won’t be able to keep providing those resources and services and it’s going to be a great loss," said Peña Figueroa.
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The two student success specialists emphasize that while the community is faced with uncertainty, the MSU Denver's Immigrant Services Program team will continue to help students navigate scholarship applications and connect them with other resources.
"I emphasize that we are united, that we are more than our immigration status," said Peña Figueroa. "I just want to provide all my support and be encouraging and just be united with my community, and just strong and resilient."
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