Hector Jimenez broke into a smile as he talked about his dreams of working as an immigration lawyer, a career he feels will allow him to continue his crusade to advocate for his peers and pursue social justice.
Like many students at the Petaluma campus of the Santa Rosa Junior College, the 20-year-old is on the cusp of his future, gearing up to transfer to a university next fall. But as one of the undocumented immigrants that make up a small slice of the college’s population of more than 30,000, he’s finding that his future is clouded with uncertainty as President Donald Trump’s policies send waves of trepidation and anger through the campuses.
Jimenez is among the more than 1,600 undocumented students at Santa Rosa Junior College, about half of whom officials say receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) benefits, part of an Obama-era program that offers legal protection to children illegally brought into the country by their parents. As Trump checks campaign promises off his agenda, DACA recipients worry that he might soon follow through on vows to reverse the program, which allows them to legally remain in the country, work and get a driver’s license.
Jimenez dedicates much of his energy to organizing immigration workshops and other events, and splits his time working at the Dream Centers at the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses. He’s the sole employee of the Petaluma center, where he’s worked since it opened last fall to help undocumented students understand the DACA processes, the California Dream Act and other resources.
Though he’s concerned about his peers, his own undocumented parents and about the future of medical care for his young brothers, who are U.S. citizens but suffer from heart defects that require frequent medical attention, he balances that fear with advocacy.
“For me, it’s looking at things in a positive manner, and doing something that’s contributing to helping the situation,” said Jimenez, whose parents brought him to Sonoma County from Oaxaca, Mexico when he was 1. “To constantly organize makes me feel better, and it’s not just because I want to feel better, but because I also want to see change.”
Jimenez is among a vocal group of students, staff and faculty that have urged the college’s administration to adopt a “safe haven” status to add another layer of security for the undocumented students from around the globe and for other marginalized populations. Officials across Sonoma County have adopted similar measures to protect undocumented immigrants in various communities.
The SRJC Board of Trustees is set to consider approving the “safe haven” resolution at its Feb. 14 meeting. The statement declares that the college won’t release personally identifiable student information, including immigration status, without a warrant or other court order or student consent, and sets guidelines for cooperation with U.S. Immigrations and Customers Enforcement officers.
Among other things, the resolution precludes campus police from detaining students based on suspected or known immigration status and states that faculty and staff will be trained on challenges faced by marginalized communities.
SRJC President Frank Chong said the resolution avoids the “incendiary” language of the “sanctuary” campus concept while still establishing a safe space for all students. President Trump has threated to withhold federal funding from communities who adopt the controversial “sanctuary” status and “willfully refuse” cooperation with immigration agents.