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Liliana Luna is leading a ‘DREAM’ effort to establish first DACA resource center in state
Photos and Story by James Hill
This fall, through the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative, Meyer Memorial Trust awarded Portland Community College Foundation a $50,000 grant to help launch the DREAM Center (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) within the Multicultural Center at the Rock Creek Campus. The new center, the first of its kind at any Oregon community college or university, will provide outreach, education, advocacy and community resources, bilingual materials, and funding for urgent and emergency services for undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) students and their families.
For five years, DACA has given nearly 800,000 young Americans called “DREAMers,” who were brought to the United States as children, the legal protections they need to work and study in the United States despite the immigration status of their parents. The new center, which the students have been asking for the past few years, will be instrumental in serving greater Washington County.
But recent policy changes imposed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump that threatened DACA have accelerated the need for the DREAM Center and the services it would provide.
“The Administration’s actions have triggered unprecedented challenges for our undocumented students,” said Liliana Luna, Rock Creek Campus Multicultural Center coordinator who led the effort. “At PCC, we recognize that DREAMer students face unique barriers that require additional mental, emotional and financial support. The new DREAM Center would focus on the empowerment, support and retention of DREAMers and their families.”
Established in 2001, the campus’ Multicultural Center is designed to provide a welcoming environment to support, retain, and empower diverse students to achieve academic excellence and become leaders who challenge and dismantle systems of oppression. In recent years, the center has grown from serving 2,500 students in 2013-14 to 7,200 in 2016-17. Each of the four PCC comprehensive campuses has a multicultural center.
For students who are undocumented, the uncertainty of President Trump’s policies has been challenging. In addition to family concerns and deportation risks, uncertainty over what scholarships these students qualify for, and whether they can find work to pay for school, weighs heavily on them.
“The election instilled fear, not just for me but for my family,” said one PCC student named Antonio. “It really impacted me mentally, being constantly worried if my parents are going to come home, the need to look after my younger sibling, how to pay the bills and how to fulfill my dream of going to college. When I look for scholarships, I don’t look for the GPA requirement. I look for whether I have to be a citizen.”
Last December, the college’s Board of Directors declared PCC a “sanctuary college,” to aid and protect undocumented students. In announcing the designation, President Mark Mitsui emphasized concerns about the impact of potential changes in federal immigration policy on PCC’s undocumented students. To address such urgent concerns, the Rock Creek Multicultural Center worked with college leadership to develop a DREAM Center and base it on successful models and best practices from the U.S. Department of Education’s “Resource Guide on Supporting Undocumented Youth in Postsecondary Settings.”
“The PCC Board of Directors believes in our DREAMers,” said PCC Board Chair Kali Thorne-Ladd. “Community colleges are open-access institutions whose mission is to educate and empower students to achieve their academic and career goals. DACA is an important asset that facilitates this mission, providing stability and economic opportunity.”
The new PCC DREAM Center plans to serve 20 families and 20 students per academic term through the college’s community resource hub. It will have legal services, assist in facilitating and processing initial DACA applications and renewal applications, provide workshops on student support and college navigation resources, and conduct academic/career advising sessions. In addition, the center will partner with local community organizations Adelante Mujeres, the Hillsboro School District, Momentum Alliance, Centro Cultural, and the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
“Many of these organizations are well established within the community as sources of support and empowerment for DACA and undocumented youth,” said Luna, a 26-year-old DACA recipient herself and part-time graduate student at Portland State University. “Partnering with these organizations on outreach and promotion will help students and their families become aware of the proposed DREAM Center services more quickly and effectively.”
The PCC Foundation aids and promotes the mission of the college by providing scholarships, equipment for teaching and training, and support for faculty and special programs. In 2016-17, the Foundation awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships to 1,550 students, most of whom have high financial need, are first-generation college students and students from communities of color.
The Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative, a partnership between The Collins Foundation, MRG Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust, aims to highlight the importance of refugees and immigrants to Oregon and the joint commitment to address the need for their successful integration into the local community. The Meyer Memorial Trust is a private foundation that works with and invests in organizations, communities, ideas and efforts that contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon.
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