Institutional Tool Kits for Immigration Action

Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was rescinding the 2014 Obama Administration memo that called for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and for the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+), but was keeping in place for now the original DACA program, established in 2012.  

Even as DACA recipients continue to have protection from deportation, their parents and other family members are increasingly targeted. In testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations, ICE Director Thomas Homan said, “if you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” Homan noted that while under the last Administration, ICE did not target “non-criminal” aliens, now they are, and there has been a significant increase in apprehensions and deportations of “non-criminal” undocumented immigrants.  

Responding to the executive actions of the current administration, Daniela Sada, a student at my college who is a DACA recipient, told CBS news“I’ve never felt so much fear in my life as now . . . I feel like it’s inevitable… when ICE comes, when the raids happen and I have to go back to Mexico and I’m detained, this is what you are going to have to do.” 

The intensifying criminalization of all undocumented populations and the push to save DACA also serves to underscore the critiques about the unintended consequences of the “dreamer” narrative.  Even prior to the presidential election, students and immigrant activists worried that by calling out as “deserving” and “innocent,” “good,” undocumented students, the narrative criminalizes families and those who do not meet the criteria; the successful push for DACA made “un-deserving” those who didn’t or couldn’t meet the DACA criteria.  We need to be mindful about our use of the term, Dreamer, and our language lauding “good immigrant” students. 

While the courts continue to halt the implementation of the “travel ban,” international students and scholars remain on high alert, with many deciding to stay in the US and not travel abroad or home, while the Department of State has implemented “heightened screening and vetting” for new visa applicants, including international students.  

Immigration matters are increasingly urgent on college campuses across the country. Taken together, first and second-generation immigrant students, undocumented students, and international students constitute approximately thirty percent of the undergraduate population nationally. These populations are the future demographics of higher education, and crucial to our institutional viability and financial sustainability.  It is critical that we listen to the student voices on our campuses and remain student-centered in our support. We need tool kits to develop more comprehensive support networks, play a more proactive role in immigration matters on multiple levels, and better leverage the power of personal stories and data.  

What would such “institutional tool kits” look like?

Policies:

We need to think about immigration at all levels –federal, state, and our own institution. Last spring, as a Visiting Fellow at MPI in DC, I asked representatives in the major higher education associations about the prospects of higher ed pushing for DACA and DAPA; their analysis was that to do so was “too political” and “too partisan” – the 2012 and 2014 actions were perceived as executive action overreach by too many, especially in red states. Now, not only was there a massive grass roots campaign led by Pomona President David Oxtoby – where over 600 college and university presidents signed a letter supporting DACA – all the major higher education associations have taken a more active role, and there are legislative efforts, some bipartisan, others led by Republicans.  

We cannot simply depend on our national higher ed associations. This is not only because they need our grass roots initiatives, but there are important state level actions. For example, thirty-three states have introduced or enacted a variety of anti-sanctuary bills to force local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE, of which 25 bills, including SB4 passed in Texas in May, seek to force campus access to ICE agents. Now is the time – especially for those campuses that can – to join with organizations and groups challenging such bills and laws.

Further, our own institutional rules and policies can act as gatekeepers or gateways. For example, if you are at a private college, does your college treat undocumented students as domestic students for the purposes of admission and financial aid? Undocumented students, who meet their state requirements, have access to in-state tuition in over 20 states, and at least 6 states have included access to some form of financial assistance. Overall, undocumented students face significant barriers going on to college, including financial and legal concerns. Yet, research and surveys have shown that access to in-state tuition and DACA increase their college going rates and success.

Programs. 

As student affairs professionals, our most immediate attention has been on providing support for students, including legal support for students, and if possible, family members, mental health counseling, peer mentoring networks, emergency funds, post-graduate support, along with training for faculty, staff, and student leaders. While your campus may not be able to have dedicated staff or a stand-alone center, listening and learning from students, being visible about support even as you maintain student privacy, instituting training, and reviewing your program rules on campus to ensure accessibility are good first steps.  

One can promote support for students in a variety of cost-efficient ways, including email and letters. At my college this past year we sent out information about resources to newly admitted students, provided undocumented students with guidance from the College when they traveled, and provided letters of invitation from our college president to commencement for undocumented parents and parents of international students.

Personal Narratives

Our institutions are uniquely situated to combine the power of personal narrative with compelling data of our student and alumni successes – collecting and sharing the contributions of first and second-generation immigrant and international students and alumni are key to our coalition building at the local, state, and federal levels.  

We should connect the personal narratives with the growing national data on the contributions of undocumented and DACA recipients, international STEM graduates, and other foreign born graduates of our colleges and universities. Moreover, sharing stories with congressional members who are also alumni of our institutions can enhance their reach and relevance. 

The more effective we become at creating, collaborating, and using our institutional tool kits, the better situated each of our campuses will be to attract and retain future generations of students. And importantly, it is the right thing to do.