The Chabot-Las Positas College District may be guilty of violating the rights of migrant students.
A letter sent by the district to students, in the 2013 fall semester, stated they needed to have a Social Security number to attend the college. The letter was an alarming request for migrant students, even prompting sympathetic faculty members to advise students not to attend Las Positas College if they feared being deported.
But the letter was inaccurate. A Social Security Number is not required. The college is not even allowed legally to demand such documentation. In fact, the letter is against the California Education Code.
The letter, which originated in the district office, was sent out at the request of the Internal Revenue Service, according to a representative from the district office.
“We were required by the IRS to send out the communication,” said Barbara Yesnosky, the Director of Business Services for the Chabot – Las Positas Community College District. “There is certain language in the letter that is required that could sound a little scary. The statewide application system, CCCApply does not require a Social Security number for admittance, and we don’t either.”
The letter was sent out again in the spring of 2014 before it was brought to the attention of certain LPC officials and the Chabot-Las Positas College District office. Though an amended letter was sent out, some believe the college has been slow to react to the community they pushed away.
Catherine Suarez, a Spanish instructor, and Marliyn Marquis, an English as a Second Language instructor, said they were the first to discover the letter after students brought it to their attention in their classes. Gilberto Victoria, a counselor said he was the one to bring it to their attention.
When ESL and Spanish professors started classes, they noticed a decline in enrollment. Normally filled with students, the classes were half empty.
Catherine Suarez learned of the problem from her students.
“When the initial letter went out and was received by students, I had several students come to me, and they were concerned because they were students who did not have proper paperwork,” Suarez said. “They wanted to know how they were going to finish their education. At that point I knew nothing about it, and so I said ‘You must be mistaken.’ Individuals and sometimes small groups would come up to me and say, ‘It’s not safe for us to come to Las Positas anymore?’”
And there it was. The letter from Yesnosky which spelled problems for many students. The letter expressly stated that “you provide us your legal name, exactly as printed on your Social Security card and your Social Security number.”
However, to apply for the college, students only need an individual tax identification number or ITIN and proof of residency.
According to Suarez, there is this notion of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to being a migrant attending school on this campus. As long as you pay your taxes and have residency, you are welcome to attend.
Students without Social Security numbers who were looking into going to the college were becoming very cautious. Marquis recalled one student she knew who went to talk to the Admissions and Records department.
“I had students who wanted to register in my class and by the NGR date left. And when I asked why, it was because they couldn’t provide the documentation. One young man said he had twice been to A and R, and when he brought the form filled out without his Social Security number, the woman who was working—Debbie Earney to be exact—said ‘You don’t have a Social Security number here.’ He said ‘I … I don’t remember it.’ She said ‘What do you mean you don’t remember your Social Security number? Everybody knows that.’ ”
Suarez also had some students who said they would not be coming back after receiving a call from Admissions and Records.
“Then I became aware of students who received actual phone calls asking for their Social Security number. And of course these students don’t have them, or they might have a fake one. This intimidated these students and some of them stated they will not come back here.”
Debbie Earney, an Admissions and Records assistant, as well as Admissions and Records have both declined to comment.
Some of the students talked with counselor Victoria. He said he was following instructions from the district.
“What I told students was that I would not enroll until we found a solution to the problem,” Victoria said. “Eventually we did find a solution to that situation. We found out that a Social Security number was not required.”
For Victoria, this letter being sent out was a huge mistake. He said students do not have to give out their Social Security number if they don’t want to. On the application for admission paperwork from the district, there is only the option to enter a Social Security number, but the ITIN is the same number pattern and length as the Social Security number.
Marquis has been very critical of the administration, citing that Chabot dealt with it differently. According to a Chabot ESL instructor, there were emails between Admissions and Records at Chabot and the ESL program, and then it was no longer an issue. But at LPC, that was not the case.
According to Marquis, Earney called her to say how sorry she was that Admissions and Records actions had denied access to students. Marquis was very blunt with her response.
“I said ‘I don’t care about your tears, and I don’t care how sorry you feel. You engaged in illegal activity, and it’s a problem for our college.”
Marquis continued, expressing concern about the actions of the LPC administration. Her criticism of President Barry Russell and Vice President Diana Rodriguez stem from how she feels the situation was handled by them.
“There was no leadership on this campus, from the president to the vice presidents, either one of them but especially Diana Rodriguez. Totally remiss in her duty to follow up on this. Sylvia (Rodriguez) totally remiss. Leaving all of this in the hands of clerks to lead this college into the path of illegal activity.”
And Marquis didn’t stop there, going so far as to call President Russell “utterly stupid” because of his inattention to the situation.
Marquis involved the American Civil Liberties Union when she sent them a copy of the letter. They then sent a letter to LPC President Barry Russell on March 27, 2014. Marquis waited for a response from Russell and anyone else in the administration.
Russell said that he has been taking care of things on his end. He said he worked with the district to amend the error made in the letter sent out to the students. He even has a plan in place for a Spanish advertising campaign that is based on the English version that went out earlier in the summer.
“We hired a consultant who is working with us. They did the campaign in the summer,” Russell said. “They are also doing this fall’s campaign as well.”
As soon as the letter was amended, Russell sent the ACLU a letter back saying that the problem had been fixed. In the meantime, he said he was always willing to field suggestions on how things could be improved.
“We are doing the best we can with the situation as it is,” Russell said. “There are always ways for improvement. As we know now we are doing everything we possibly can. If anybody has any input on how to do things better or how to reach out to the students, don’t keep it a secret. We would love to react.”