American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Richard R. Fernández

Richard R. Fernández, Northern Arizona University, works with Northern Arizona Dream Fund (NADF) in Flagstaff, AZ. ASA asked Fernández about that work:

What is the mission of Northern Arizona Dream Fund? The mission of the NADF is to assist the undocumented community members complete and pay for DACA applications and to provide support for educational expenses.

Can you describe the work with NADF? The NADF board has worked over the past four years to raise funds to support DACA applicants. Prior to President Trump’s cessation of the program, the application fee that goes to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was $495. As one might imagine, this fee was hardly affordable to the many applicants between the ages of 15 and 30 years old applying for the program. Our board has consisted of social science faculty and community members interested in providing this type of assistance. They serve on a pro-bono basis and have been able to connect with the greater Flagstaff community to build a monetary reserve that has assisted applicants throughout the region. In addition, last year we partnered with the local community college to start a scholarship fund for DACA students. Needless to say, the current political policy has created fear, and, unless Congress acts, these undocumented immigrants will retreat once again into the shadows.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? We are an applied sociology department. I have been involved in various ways in regional, state, and local community activities for decades. The background of our board brings a collective knowledge of community and social organization that has been invaluable to the success of our efforts. My emphases have been on community and complex organizations, which are a perfect complement to the demands of forming a nonprofit and connecting to leadership throughout greater Flagstaff. Our work has revealed to us the complex nature of this problem and the deep personal gratitude that is felt by  these young men and women and their families when they receive help.

How did you connect with the NADF? Soon after President Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I, in cooperation with other social science faculty and community members, organized a 501c3 nonprofit to help the undocumented immigrant community in Northern Arizona.

Duration of the project? We hope to continue but this depends upon congressional action, which does not look promising.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? I believe I can speak for the Board in saying that each of us have been deeply touched by the work we have done with the immigrant community. The young men and women looking for a path to remain in the United States support our country in various ways. There are so many stories of struggle and accomplishment among them. Their stories need to be told. Hopefully, the current retrograde social atmosphere is but a pause to more enlightened policy formation for this deserving group of young immigrants.