In 2012, President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a four-year program that serves to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the United States under the age of 16 and prior to the year 2007. The program exempts eligible immigrants from deportation and grants them the ability to obtain two-year work permits. With President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration just a few months away, over 180 college and university presidents — including Drew Faust of Harvard, Peter Salovey of Yale, and Christina Paxson of Brown — are urging Trump to uphold DACA.
"DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community," they said in a joint letter. "With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech, and the non-profit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate schools in numerous disciplines. They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies."
More than 700,000 people are currently protected by the DACA. The program has been a point of division in Washington since it was first implemented; in 2014, nearly all Republican supported a bill that would end it.
Trump vowed to repeal DACA during the elections. "You know what I want?" he said on one occasion. "I want dreamers to come from this country, OK?" During an August 2016 CNN interview he declared, "They're gonna have to go, and they're gonna have to come back in legally."
While Trump has backtracked on a few of his campaign promises, such as his plan to completely eliminate the Affordable Care Act and the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, undocumented students and those who support them aren't holding their breath for the new president to have a change of opinion. "People are taking [Trump] at his word and so preparing for the worst," said Roberto Gonzales, a Harvard professor.
While a few of the presidents who signed the joint letter have been wary of making promises to undocumented students that they would not be able to legally keep, some, like Michael S. Roth of Wesleyan University, declared Wesleyan a "sanctuary campus" and expressed a position to not aid the government with any attempts to target students or staff based on immigration status. "Through our alumni networks, we are also putting together legal resources for members of the Wesleyan community with questions concerning their immigration status," said a message on the school's website. "We will facilitate connections to these resources and other support services, as we work with appropriate offices and constituency groups on campus."
One small silver lining is the unlikelihood of immigration authorities to target colleges or universities for deportation raids. "[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is focused on the arrest of convicted criminals who pose a threat to public safety as well as recent border crosses," one official told The Boston Globe. "Historically and currently, neither schools nor their students have been a focus of ICE operations."
Still, even if students aren't forcibly taken out of schools, the discontinuation of DACA would inhibit hundreds of thousands of people from being legally able to work and pursue an education. Let's hope Trump takes Obama's advice and thinks "long and hard" when making his decision on this issue.