Counselors offer hope, protect mental health


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Counselor Jenna Hornbuckle posts a message supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients in the Student Center Plaza on Sept. 5.

By Roxana Amparo, Associate Editor

Counseling and support was offered to reassure undocumented students that their safety and sanity both matter to the Contra Costa College community.

The lives of nearly 800,000 undocumented students were left vulnerable on Sept. 5 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on behalf of the Trump Administration, announced the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

DACA is a program established during former President Obama’s second term that allowed qualifying undocumented immigrants to obtain a 2-year renewable work permit and more importantly — immunity from deportation.

When CCC counselors Norma Valdez-Jimenez and Liliana Moncada heard the news about the roll back of DACA the morning of Sept. 5, they decided it was necessary to set up a counseling session in SA-11 that afternoon from 3-4 p.m. for students to release their emotions about the drastic decision made by the president.

For those students who mustered up the courage to join the counseling session, being there meant outing themselves as undocumented students.

Valdez-Jimenez said, “I understand that showing up here today takes a lot of courage because you are saying, ‘I am one of these individuals that is being targeted.’”

For many, this means returning to the shadows they lived in prior to DACA coming to existence in June of 2012.

Political science major Cinthya Zuniga said she thought President Donald trump was going to “touch his heart” when making decisions about DACA.

“I really had hope,” Zuniga said.

“I know that when I come home my mom will be disappointed and I don’t know how to approach her. I want to come out strong for her. At first I felt hopeless, like there was no point to continuing with school. I thought, when I get my bachelors, how am I going to work and continue?”

Zuniga is one of the undocumented students who benefitted from DACA and was able to get a tutoring position on campus.

Moncada said she took part in the counseling session to figure out what everything means and in which ways she can be supportive to undocumented students at CCC and in the community.

“I just want to acknowledge the feelings that everyone is feeling right now, confusion, fear, frustration, anger and that it is super normal because this just happened and there are a lot of unknowns,” Moncada said.

The support from counselors and other administrators gave hope to those in attendance.

Zuniga said she feels strong enough to continue with school knowing she has counselors who care. Also, knowing people who have gone through the university system that know the path to success offers a little more comfort.

“I really appreciate that you all are here and showing us love and support,” Zuniga said.

For Zuniga, giving up hope means abandoning everything she has worked for throughout her educational path.

“I don’t feel like (giving up) is what I should be doing because that would be like abandoning everything that my mom worked for. Everything that I have done in this country and getting straight A’s (in school) would be all for nothing.”

Even if she returns to “the shadows” she said she will continue contributing to her community.

“I have to do something,” Zuniga said.

A topic of concern for students was whether DACA coming to an end meant other forms of aid would also go away.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (Dream Act) is a bill passed in 2001 that allowed eligible undocumented students to apply for state financial aid.

Valdez-Jimenez said ending DACA does not impact undocumented students’ enrollment at CCC or any college.

Undocumented students who qualify under Assembly Bill 540 (AB 540), a bill allowing undocumented students to pay the in-state tuition unit fee of $46 at CCC or at any California community college instead of out-of-state tuition fee of $269, can apply for financial aid through the Dream Act.

AB540 students can apply for the Dream Act to receive financial aid as well as qualify for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver to pay semester fees and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) at CCC.

Valdez-Jimenez asked the group of students what they can do as administrators to help the undocumented community on campus.

“This goes for all the DACA students, what do you think you most need from us? From the college? From us individually, personally, from each other?”

Zuniga said she is aware counselors and administrators may not have all the solutions to the current issues regarding immigration, but having a supportive community on campus that cares about the well being of DACA recipients whose lives are on the line help her through her troubles.

“Maybe it’s because I reach out to people like Norma or my professors. Maybe it’s because I always look for ways that people can help me out when I feel down. I know that there are other students who don’t have those facilities or people they can talk to.”

Zuniga said, “If (everyone) was not here, then maybe I wouldn’t still be here continuing with school.”

President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said there is a lot of love and concern for the CCC community and thinks it is important that the college leadership doesn’t believe that it is OK to just sit back.

“That is absolutely not what we stand for as educators and we do very much stand for is to continue the dialogue and to fight what we believe to be one of the most important fights that is happening in our world today.”

“It’s painful but we have to persevere and we have to, as a group of not just educators but as leaders. We have to stand up and do what’s right for all members of our community and all that are mostly targeted by the current administration,” Mehdizadeh said.

Senior Dean of Instruction Tish Young said standing together during hardships is necessary for the community.

Prior to working at CCC, Dr. Young was part of Diablo Valley College’s DREAMers Alliance for three years and has been trained to educate the community about DACA and Dreamers.