A ‘dream’ opening

By James Hill

A new resource center at an Oregon college provides services for undocumented and DACA students and their families.

On January 22, a long-held dream undocumented of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students studying at Portland Community College (PCC) came true.

Amid traditional dancing, directional prayers, poignant speeches and high-octane chants, students and staff cut the blue ribbon signifying the official opening of PCC’s DREAM Center, the first of its kind at an Oregon community college or university. The center was funded through a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

“At PCC, we recognize that DREAMer students face unique barriers that require additional mental, emotional and financial support,” said Liliana Luna, Rock Creek Multicultural Center coordinator and a DACA recipient. “The new DREAM Center focuses on the empowerment, support and retention of DREAMers and their families.”

The resource center will offer outreach, education, advocacy and community resources, bilingual materials, and funding for urgent and emergency services for undocumented and DACA students and their families. Specifically, the center’s provisions will include legal services, the facilitation and processing of initial DACA applications and renewal applications, workshops on student support and college navigation resources, and academic/career advising sessions.

The center intends to serve 20 families and 20 students per academic term.

For additional support and resources, 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.

A student-led effort

The idea for the center came from students. They wanted to ease pressures on DACA recipients by taking down barriers to financial assistance and the navigation of college resources. Under the supervision of the campus’ Multicultural Center, the students came up with a plan, did exhaustive research, and presented their final concept to college leadership.

“They met with me in my office two years ago and told me, ‘This will happen,’” recalled Rock Creek President Sandra Fowler-Hill of the students’ determination. “I’m so proud of their work. This new center will be instrumental in serving the greater Washington County area.”

The opening of the first DREAM Center in the state fits into PCC’s mission. Last year, the college’s board of directors declared the institution a “sanctuary college” to aid and protect undocumented students. PCC President Mark Mitsui emphasized concerns about the impact of potential changes in federal immigration policy on PCC’s undocumented students as the reason for the decision.

The students and their new resource center coordinator — Jhoana Monroy — appreciated the symbolism of the event.

“It’s something big and unique we are going through,” said Monroy of the DREAMers’ uncertain future. “This is an honor for me to be serving these students, who strive for success, education, advocacy and, above all else, to further their dreams.”

James Hill

is a communications specialist at Portland Community College in Oregon.