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USAC external vice president fails to receive pay for weeks due to lost DACA status

Undergraduate Students Association Council External Vice President Johana Guerra Martinez chose to skip council meetings for two weeks due to the lack of compensation for her work.(Marilyn Chavez-Martinez/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

Feb. 25, 2020 9:22 a.m.

Every Tuesday night, 15 student government representatives congregate for council meetings. But for the last two weeks, one seat has remained empty.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council is composed of undergraduate student representatives who receive a stipend for fulfilling their work as outlined in the council’s constitution.

However, for about seven weeks, External Vice President Johana Guerra Martinez was not paid.

The fourth-year political science student lost her status as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Jan. 1. DACA allows students like Guerra Martinez to receive work permits and stay in the United States, but in 2017, President Donald Trump ended the program.

Presently, no new applications for the program are being accepted, and people seeking work permits must apply to renew their DACA employment authorization.

Guerra Martinez applied for renewal in fall quarter, but the application was rejected Jan. 1. She did not receive any payment for her work until seven weeks later, when she ultimately received her stipend following an allocation from the council.

She spoke with UCLA administrative representatives on the council before her DACA application was rejected and was told they would work to advance her allocated stipend payments. But as the weeks came and went, Guerra Martinez remained on the council and fulfilled her duties without receiving compensation.

Guerra Martinez made her story public Feb. 11 in an open letter to the council, which she read aloud from the public seating area. She announced that in light of her lack of compensation, she would no longer sit in on council meetings or meet with the University of California Student Association.

After two more weeks of uncertainty, Guerra Martinez was able to receive her stipend Monday in a lump sum through the UCLA Undocumented Student Program, which provides resources and services to undocumented students. USAC allocated the remainder of her stipend to the program, which was then able to grant her the money as a scholarship.

USAC President Robert Watson said in an emailed statement that the council is still concerned by the amount of time it took to properly compensate the EVP.

“It needs to be a continuing conversation on how to go about best serving our student leaders that do not have DACA status,” Watson said in the statement.

Guerra Martinez received a MyUCLA notice Friday letting her know that she could accept her financial aid, which included her stipend for the rest of the year.

Guerra Martinez said she was shaken not only by her unemployment but also because her issues receiving compensation indicate the UC’s inability to help students who lose their DACA statuses.

“That’s … the promise of what comes with the UC education,” Guerra Martinez said. “You get promises to apply to internships and build your resume for your future career, but undocumented students constantly don’t have those opportunities because there’s employment restrictions. I think for me, this experience has just been a huge reminder of the fact that there is no plan for what to do when students lose DACA.”

The University of California filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for rescinding the program, which the Supreme Court began hearing in November. However, there is still no end in sight.

Despite having received her stipend, Guerra Martinez said it also did not feel fair to receive her stipend based on the discretion of her peers on the council, since it is expected that UCLA will pay its undergraduate student representatives.

The moment work authorization is taken away from an undocumented student, the security of a paycheck is taken away, said Carlos Alarcon, a member of the UC Undocumented Student Coalition and a third-year business student at UC Riverside.

Students might then have to volunteer their time to fulfill their obligations.

“This (whole situation is) something that happens a lot,” Alarcon said. “(Undocumented students) have to find other ways of working.”

Guerra Martinez faced this herself when an administrative representative told her she could be called a volunteer to continue in the role of EVP.

“That hurt a lot because this isn’t a job that you volunteer for, it’s a job that you run for and get paid for,” Guerra Martinez said.

She said she would like to see fellowship opportunities or increased funding pools for paying undocumented students without DACA and for students who don’t qualify for Assembly Bill 540, which allows certain nonresident students to be exempt from paying nonresident tuition fees.

Some UC campuses, such as Riverside, Irvine and Santa Cruz, have these programs, but they vary in how much money they offer or the number of fellowships available. There is no uniform program throughout the UC system, Alarcon said.

There is also no push for these programs across the UC, which means there’s no backup plan for undocumented students, Guerra Martinez said.

The UC Undocumented Student Coalition is working with the UC Office of the President in order to implement these programs UC-wide, Alarcon said. This is a conversation they hope to continue with UC President Janet Napolitano’s successor, he added.

“This incident that happened with (Guerra Martinez) isn’t only specific to her,” Alarcon said. “I’m sure this has happened to various students within the UC system. I just want this to kind of highlight the grander conversation that needs to be had and hopefully the policy changes that the UC system needs to implement.”

Guerra Martinez will return to her seat at the council table at its meeting Tuesday.

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Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | News and outreach senior staff
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
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