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Center will work with undocumented students at PCC's Rock Creek campus, near Hillsboro.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Traditional dancers perform during the grand opening of the DREAM center at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus on Monday.Students at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus crowded outside room 101 on Monday, to sing, dance and celebrate the formation of a new center aimed at helping the campus' undocumented students.

On Jan. 22, PCC Rock Creek officially opened the Center for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — or DREAM Center — aimed at helping undocumented immigrants attending the college get access to resources.

A first of its kind at an Oregon college, the center will offer outreach, education, advocacy and community resources to two dozen undocumented students and their families each term, campus President Sandra Fowler-Hill said.

"This center will be instrumental to serving greater Washington County," Fowler-Hill said.

The center's opening comes amid a national discussion about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA. The Obama-era program offers temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

DACA, Fowler-Hill said, granted 800,000 young people across the country the "legal protections they need to work and study, despite the immigration status of their parents."

That program has come under fire from conservatives in recent months, after the federal government announced it was ending the program, with plans to deport the 800,000 members of the program, known as Dreamers, in March, unless a deal is reached at the federal level. Congress is considering whether or not to re-establish the program as federal law, a debate which prompted a government shutdown last weekend.

For undocumented people enrolled in school, the staredown in Washington, D.C., exacerbates an already stressful time in their lives, Fowler-Hill said.

"For students who are undocumented, the uncertainty of current policies has been challenging," she said. "In addition to family concerns and deportation risk, students have the uncertainty of what scholarships they can quality for and whether they can find work to pay for school. It all weighs heavily on them."

Jhoana Monroy, the DREAM Center's coordinator, said going to college is difficult enough for students, without having to struggle through issues involving immigration.

"When students come to higher education, they face many barriers," she said. "For Dreamers, they face extreme difficulties."

Something as simple as applying for financial aid, such as scholarships or grants, can be an insurmountable problem, she said.

"Usually they have to go to five different places to get a question answered. Even something simple, like 'can I apply for financial aid?' They're sent to several different people. This will be a go-to hub for those students."

Fowler-Hill said students at the community college have been steadfastly calling on PCC officials to give undocumented students a place to get their issues addressed.

"Two years ago, these students met with me and said, 'This will happen, Sandra,'" she said. "They came up with a plan, they did the research and investigated best practices. They pulled it together into a plan that became fundable."

The DREAM Center is funded by a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funder Collaborative and Meyer Memorial Trust.

The center will help undocumented students navigate and connect with other resources across the community, Monroy said.

"That could mean helping them meet with attorneys, getting food assistance, or whatever," Monroy said. "It could also mean visiting the doctor with them. Anything that they need. We know there is a lot going on with students. Each comes with different barriers. … Even if they just want to relieve some stress and want to talk to somebody, we have staff here for them."

The center is about empowering people, she said.

"Even though there are all these barriers, people can still achieve their dreams," she said.

Monroy and Fowler-Hill said they'd like to see the program expand to other PCC campuses and Oregon schools, eventually.

"We hope this is a great start," Monroy said. "We want to take that leadership and have it mirrored on different campuses."

That would require additional funding the college doesn't have, Fowler-Hill said.

Until then, Fowler-Hill said, the Rock Creek campus is celebrating.

"We're excited to see the dream come alive for these students," Fowler-Hill said.

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