In Defense of DACA

Amid uncertainty over Trump presidency, college leaders sign on to a statement calling for the continuation of a program that has benefited undocumented college students.

November 21, 2016
 
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More than 90 college and university presidents have signed a statement calling for the continuation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which more than 700,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children have registered with the federal government in exchange for temporary relief from the possibility of deportation and a two-year renewable work permit. President-elect Donald J. Trump has said he would end the DACA program, which was authorized by President Obama by executive action.

The statement from college presidents, organized by Pomona College President David Oxtoby, says that since the start of the DACA program in 2012, “we have seen the critical benefits of this program for our students, and the highly positive impacts on our institutions and communities. DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community. With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech and the nonprofit 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.”

The statement continues, “To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent -- and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”

The full text of the statement and the list of the presidents who signed as of Sunday night may be found at the bottom of this article. New signatories will continue to be added here through Tuesday.  

"The DACA program has been really important to us,” said Pomona’s Oxtoby. “We have close to 4 percent of our students who are on DACA or undocumented. When you think that 750,000 people have registered with DACA, this is a huge resource for our country, and we just feel that it’s critical that people be allowed to continue doing what they’re doing, continue their studies, graduate and succeed and get jobs.”

Oxtoby said that, having met with students Friday morning, “there is considerable anxiety” about what will happen under the new administration, and that Trump’s pick for attorney general had “expanded that anxiety.” Trump announced on Friday he would nominate as attorney general Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, who has opposed DACA as "mass backdoor amnesty" and describes himself on his Senate website as "a leading opponent of President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesties."

The concern among many in higher education is that what Obama’s executive power giveth, Trump’s can just as easily take away -- and what would happen then to the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who have registered their personal information, including biometric information, with the federal government in exchange for the program’s protections and benefits?

Post-election talking points issued by the Immigration Legal Resource Center emphasize that applicants or recipients of DACA “will not necessarily be targeted for deportation. Administrative programs like this have never been used for wholesale deportation in the past. It would be extremely costly for the government to try to deport all 700,000-plus DACA recipients. However, Trump is more unpredictable than past presidents, so we do not really know what to expect.”

“I think we’ve had more calls and emails this week about DACA and students who are in that database than any other single issue,” said Terry Hartle, the senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “What we’re dealing with is uncertainty. Any presidential transition raises questions about how things will change in the months and years ahead, and I think particularly with the transition that we’re seeing form the Obama administration to the Trump administration there’s more controversy than we’ve seen in a long time.”

Hartle said there’s a “widespread consensus” among college presidents “that DACA has been very beneficial. It’s helped roughly three-quarters of a million Americans begin to find a path toward a better future. The higher education community has long believed that DACA is very beneficial and a good step. The problem is DACA provided ‘quasi-legal’ protection -- and you can put quasi-legal in quotes. Quasi-legal is meaningless. You either have legal protection or you don’t.”

Hartle continued, “DACA has created a database that has been used to help a large number of people. It could obviously be used now in a way that could harm those people, and that is the concern. We have been underscoring that it is not clear what, if anything, the Trump administration is likely to do with DACA. On 60 Minutes [on Nov. 13] President-elect Trump was very clear that they were going to start by going after drug dealers, criminals and gang members. By definition if you are in DACA, you are none of those things.” (To be eligible for DACA, applicants must not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, or otherwise be deemed a threat to national security or public safety.)

Trump's choice for incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, appeared on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday. When he was asked whether DACA recipients would lose their protected status, Priebus replied, "This president is going to do a couple things first. First, what he is going to do is start working on legislation to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States …. Secondly, he has said that we are going to do our best and get the best and brightest people together to remove the criminal elements …. But thirdly what he's also made clear is after all those things are done, he will then look at what we are going to do and how we're going to deal with the fact that there are millions and millions of people here that aren't bad people and in many cases [were] brought here by their parents when they were little. But that's a subject that's going to come up after those first two things are taken care of."

Since Trump’s election, students, alumni and faculty at many universities have pushed for their institutions to limit their voluntary participation with federal immigration authorities and declare themselves “sanctuary campuses.”

Reed College on Friday announced it would go that route and declare itself a sanctuary college. In a statement, Reed President John R. Kroger said the college would "not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the investigation of the immigration status of our students, staff or faculty absent a direct court order."

Wesleyan University has also declared itself a sanctuary campus. President Michael S. Roth wrote on his blog Sunday that the institution "will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to deport our students, faculty or staff solely because of their citizenship status."

Other college and universities, while not declaring themselves sanctuary campuses, have pledged to do many of the things the movement is asking of college leaders. California State University’s chancellor told the Los Angeles Times last week that the system would not help deport undocumented students under a Trump administration. "Our police departments will not honor immigration hold requests," the chancellor, Timothy P. White, told the paper. "Our university police do not contact, detain, question or arrest individuals solely on the basis of being … a person that lacks documentation."

The joint letter from college presidents seeking the continuation and expansion of DACA does not reference the sanctuary campus movement. Pomona's Oxtoby said in an interview that the college is "certainly looking at many of the aspects of what might be included in [being] a sanctuary campus. There are particular proposals about ways we might support students, whether it’s providing legal aid, things like that. We’re exploring all those ideas, the ways in which we might be able to help our undocumented students and DACA students. Whether that gets collected together into something that is called a sanctuary campus, I’m not sure."

In a follow-up email sent by a Pomona spokesman, Oxtoby noted that campus security officers "are specifically directed not to ask" about individuals' legal status and that the law "does not require us to share the immigration status of students -- with regard to whether they are undocumented or DACAmented -- with the federal government, with any federal, state or local agency or with law enforcement agencies, and we do not do so."

"We neither share such immigration status information nor permit ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or any law enforcement agency to conduct immigration enforcement activities on our campus," Oxtoby wrote. "If government agencies act to compel us to do so, we will use our voice in the community and our legal resources in support of our students, staff and faculty."

Michael A. Olivas, an expert on higher education and immigration law and a longtime advocate for undocumented students, who is now serving as interim president of the University of Houston Downtown, said he had been "inundated" with dozens of sanctuary campus proposals. "My view on these proposals is that they provide a chimerical outlet for people who are frustrated and have no other pathways to ameliorate the situation," Olivas, who signed the presidents' letter, wrote via email, "but the term 'sanctuary' is a term that is too fraught with restrictionist meanings or misunderstandings about the difference between 'defying the law' and choosing not to implement discretionary practices, for policy, efficacy or other reasons."

Olivas, who is on leave from the UH Law Center and who emphasized that he is speaking only on behalf of himself and not his institution, wrote that the term ‘sanctuary’ “has no legal meaning, and the admonitions are vague and impossible to implement, which will only frustrate people more. I have urged all those who have called me to be very cautious in suggesting that a legal cocoon is possible or even needed for students, who are not lawbreakers. Of course, institutions should provide support and services, as they would for all their students, especially vulnerable ones, but exacting pledges that cannot be kept will do no one any good.”

Text of Presidents’ Open Letter

The core mission of higher education is the advancement of knowledge, people and society. As educational leaders, we are committed to upholding free inquiry and education in our colleges and universities, and to providing the opportunity for all our students to pursue their learning and life goals.

Since the advent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, we have seen the critical benefits of this program for our students, and the highly positive impacts on our institutions and communities. DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community. With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech and the nonprofit 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.

To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent -- and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.

We call on our colleagues and other leaders across the business, civic, religious and nonprofit sectors to join with us in this urgent matter.

Presidents and Chancellors Who Signed (alphabetical by institution)

  • James Mullen, Allegheny College
  • Jeff Abernathy, Alma College
  • Biddy Martin, Amherst College
  • Paul Pribbenow, Augsburg College
  • Leon Botstein, Bard College
  • Debora Spar, Barnard College
  • Clayton Spencer, Bates College
  • Mariko Silver, Bennington College
  • Clayton Rose, Bowdoin College
  • Christina Paxson, Brown University
  • Kimberly Cassidy, Bryn Mawr College
  • Steven Lavine, California Institute of the Arts
  • Chris Kimball, California Lutheran University
  • Mildred García, California State University, Fullerton
  • Barbara Snyder, Case Western Reserve University
  • Brian Casey, Colgate University
  • Sarah Bolton, College of Wooster
  • Katherine Bergeron, Connecticut College
  • Yves Salomon-Fernandez, Cumberland County College
  • Phil Hanlon, Dartmouth College
  • Carol Quillen, Davidson College
  • Claire Sterk, Emory University
  • Daniel Porterfield, Franklin & Marshall College
  • Elizabeth Davis, Furman University
  • John J. DeGioia, Georgetown University
  • Janet Morgan Riggs, Gettysburg College
  • Jose Antonio Bowen, Goucher College
  • Raynard Kington, Grinnell College
  • David Wippman, Hamilton College
  • Drew Faust, Harvard University
  • James Troha, Juniata College
  • Sean Decatur, Kenyon College
  • Teresa Amott, Knox College
  • Randal Wisbey, La Sierra University
  • Jonathan Burke, Laguna College of Art and Design
  • Barry Glassner, Lewis & Clark College
  • Timothy Law Snyder, Loyola Marymount University
  • Brian Linnane, S.J., Loyola University Maryland
  • Brian Rosenberg, Macalester College
  • Lucas Lamadrid, Marymount California University
  • Richard Moran, Menlo College
  • Laurie Patton, Middlebury College
  • Beth Hillman, Mills College
  • Sonya Stephens, Mount Holyoke College
  • Morton Schapiro, Northwestern University
  • Judith Maxwell Greig, Notre Dame de Namur University
  • Marvin Krislov, Oberlin College
  • Jonathan Veitch, Occidental College
  • Lawrence Schall, Oglethorpe University
  • Michael Sorrell, Paul Quinn College
  • Eric Barron, Pennsylvania State University
  • Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College
  • David Oxtoby, Pomona College
  • Christopher Eisgruber, Princeton University
  • John Kroger, Reed College
  • David Leebron, Rice University
  • Eugene Cornacchia, Saint Peter's University
  • Michael Engh, Santa Clara University
  • Karen Lawrence, Sarah Lawrence College
  • Lara Tiedens, Scripps College
  • Kathleen McCartney, Smith College
  • Edward B. Burger, Southwestern University
  • Satish K. Tripathi, State University of New York at Buffalo
  • Samuel Stanley, State University of New York at Stony Brook
  • Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College
  • Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College
  • Danny Anderson, Trinity University
  • Anthony Monaco, Tufts University
  • Ralph Hexter, University of California, Davis
  • Howard Gillman, University of California, Irvine
  • Pradeep Khosla, University of California, San Diego
  • Michael A. Olivas, University of Houston Downtown
  • Bernadette Gray-Little, University of Kansas
  • Devorah Lieberman, University of La Verne
  • Wallace Loh, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Mark Schlissel, University of Michigan
  • Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
  • Isiaah Crawford, University of Puget Sound
  • Ralph Kuncl, University of Redlands
  • James Harris, University of San Diego
  • Paul Fitzgerald, University of San Francisco
  • Denise Doyle, University of the Incarnate Word
  • Pamela Eibeck, University of the Pacific
  • Stephen Morgan, University of the West
  • Jonathan Chenette, Vassar College
  • Tori Haring-Smith, Washington & Jefferson College
  • Kenneth Ruscio, Washington and Lee University
  • Paula Johnson, Wellesley College
  • Michael Roth, Wesleyan University
  • Sharon Herzberger, Whittier College
  • Stephen Thorsett, Willamette University
  • Adam Falk, Williams College
  • Peter Salovey, Yale University

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