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Latino Heritage Month focuses on immigration issues

Unofficial keynote event is "DACA—A Dream Deferred," a lecture and exhibit about the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

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EACH YEAR at Armstrong State University, Hispanic Outreach and Leadership at Armstrong (HOLA) joins together to put on Latino Heritage Month.

It's a full-blown celebration of the Latino heritage, from dance lessons to food to lectures to film screenings, and it's always a sure source of fun for students on campus.

This year, it's getting a little political.

The month's unofficial keynote event is "DACA—A Dream Deferred," a joint lecture and exhibit about the policy also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

At the Sept. 24 lecture, hosted at the Beach Institute, Jerry Gonzalez from the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) will speak about why DACA is important, and Armstrong student Ricardo Yair Muñoz will display his photography from a recent trip to Mexico, his native country.

The lecture aims to spread awareness about what DACA is and isn't, a crucial distinction that could potentially address recent statements by presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

"[DACA] is part of Obama's effective action order to grant protection from deportation to young children brought to the United States before the age of 16," explains Lucy Aradillas, the assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) at Armstrong.

DACA protects undocumented students, young people who live in the United States either without legal inspection or with an expired visa. Their status is technically illegal, but many undocumented students have lived in the U.S. their entire lives, having either moved here at a young age or been born here, and are often unaware that they are undocumented.

"It doesn't matter how long they've been here; some students did not know their undocumented status until their friends were applying to college and getting driver's licenses, and that's when they found out they were undocumented," says Nashia Wittenberg, the director of OMA at Armstrong.

DACA allows undocumented students to attend college by granting them a two-year work permit, which is often referred to as a "visa" and allows the students to stay legally in the U.S.

"In Georgia, the work permit is super good because to get a license here, you really only need a Social Security card and a work permit, which is technically a visa," explains Aradillas. "Being able to drive without being afraid is huge because in Georgia, driving without a license is a crime. It's not like a civil kind of thing, so when you get pulled over without one, you get arrested and go to jail. Then while you're there, they notify immigrant services. That's not a good thing; it leads to deportation."

Applying for DACA seems to guarantee peace of mind for undocumented students, but very few undocumented students actually apply for it.

"A historic distrust of the government," Wittenberg offers as an answer to the low participation. "If you have family dependent on you for income, you don't want to run the risk of not being able to support them."

"In their mind, you're filling out paperwork that says, 'Here I am, come get me,'" adds Aradillas.

Fortunately, signing up for DACA doesn't place a giant target on undocumented students' backs for Immigration to find them. It does give the students the visa they need to stay in the U.S.

Also, the peace of mind attained from being legally present in the U.S. makes it a lot easier to focus on schoolwork.

Statements about how illegal immigrants benefit from citizens’ hard work seem to include these students. However, DACA doesn't give free reign to undocumented students while they study here.

"DACA students cannot get any type of federal aid when they're going to a university," says Aradillas. "These people are here and legally present, but they're not getting benefits."

Their choice of college is also severely limited—in Georgia, very few schools accept undocumented students for admission.

"Armstrong is one of the few that will accept undocumented students, but by law we have to charge students out-of-state tuition," says Wittenberg.

According to Armstrong's website, per semester, in-state tuition is $3,166 and out-of-state tuition is $9,576. That's over 30% more expensive for undocumented students, who are residents of the state.

On the tuition and fees page, it's interesting to note that the Board of Regents recently passed a resolution to allow residents of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama to receive in-state tuition. DACA students still cannot receive in-state tuition.

After learning about DACA, be sure to celebrate other aspects of the Latino culture with the rest of the month's events, listed below.

Friday, September 25: 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 29: 6-8 p.m.

Monday, October 5: 12-1 p.m.

Tuesday, October 6: 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday, October 7: 6 p.m.

Thursday, October 8: 1-2 p.m.

Thursday, October 8: 6-8 p.m.

Saturday, October 10: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Thursday, October 15: 6 p.m.

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