President Christina Paxson P’19 joined over 250 college and university presidents in signing a statement that calls for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be “upheld, continued and expanded.” The statement was written by the administration of Pomona College and circulated by the Association of American Universities.
DACA is a program that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 to avoid deportation for a renewable period of two years, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Applicants must meet several eligibility requirements. For example, they must be enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or obtain a general education development certificate, according to the website.
As of June 2016, 741,546 people had benefited from DACA since the program’s implementation in 2012, according to USCIS’ third quarter report for the 2016 fiscal year.
The statement calls DACA a “moral imperative and a national necessity.” Paxson described supporting undocumented students as a moral stance because they were brought to the United States by their parents, and many do not have memories of the country in which they were born. “The idea that you would ask (these) people to leave seems wrong to me,” she said.
University administrators have been meeting with DACA students to learn about how to better meet their needs, said Provost Richard Locke. Earlier this year, the University changed policy to classify DACA students as domestic in the admission process. The University also committed to using its resources to support undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid, he said.
The University is in the process of bringing in legal advisors who can counsel students on DACA and other citizenship and work authorization issues, Paxson said. It is also providing financial assistance to students who cannot afford the $465 DACA application fee, Locke said.
The University will not collect or turn over student information on immigration status to federal officials without a warrant or a similar legal document, Paxson said. Officers from the Department of Public Safety also “will not act on behalf of federal agents to enforce immigration laws” unless they are required to do so, she added.
Students and faculty members circulated a petition imploring the University to make Brown a “sanctuary campus.” Though Paxson and Locke wrote in a Herald op-ed that the University cannot legally become a sanctuary campus or promise “absolute protection” by refusing to comply with the law, Paxson said the University is approaching the issue from multiple angles.
In a statement issued Nov. 24 on the Our Campus student walkout Facebook event page, organizers questioned why the University cannot become a sanctuary campus if other colleges have been able to, even though some “have much lower endowments and fewer resources than Brown.” Columbia has also announced intentions to serve as a sanctuary campus.
Paxson said there is no single definition for the term “sanctuary campus.” While other universities may apply the label to themselves, she said it is not helpful to do the same for Brown. Despite not adopting the label of “sanctuary campus,” the University is taking many of the same actions as colleges that have used the term, including committing to not turning over immigration information to federal officials without a warrant and providing legal counsel, she said.
Though it is uncertain how federal policies will change and the effects they will bring, Paxson said the University will do “everything we can to support our undocumented and DACA students.”
Kenneth Wong, chair of the education department and professor of international and public affairs, said the administration of President-Elect Donald Trump must not shift or make policies based on generalizations about all immigrants. Though a cornerstone of Trump’s platform has been to tighten immigration laws and crack down on immigrants who are criminals, this group of people is just a small portion of the entire immigrant population, Wong said. “DACA speaks to the group of immigrants that doesn’t have anything to do with what (Trump) is targeting,” he added.
“It’s my hope that the incoming administration will think hard about some of the policies they have proposed and not go through with the elimination of DACA,” Locke said. “It’s not in the interest of the country, and it would be a morally offensive act.”
From an economic perspective, allowing undocumented immigrants benefiting from DACA to stay makes sense, Wong said. These immigrants have already benefited from the education system, so they should have a chance to give back to society by working here, he added.
The statement also invokes this sort of logic.
“America needs talent — and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community,” the statement reads. “They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”
The statement calls on “our country’s leaders … across the business, civic, religious and non-profit sectors” to join universities in supporting DACA. University administration has sent the statement to state leaders, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, Mayor Jorge Elorza and state legislators, Paxson said.
Such a statement supporting undocumented students is “unprecedented,” Wong said.