Tuesday, August 15, 2017, marked the five-year anniversary since the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In response, advocates took up the charge of defending DACA through rallies and awareness campaigns which launched on social media platforms under the hashtag #defendDACA. Immigrant advocate and community organizer, Kristina Tendilla of Chicago, IL, explained that coming out in support of undocumented individuals on Tuesday was especially important due to the legislative climate. “People are really afraid with all the different things happening right now making it unsafe for immigrants,” she stated, and in reference to the rallies on Tuesday noted, “We’ve seen actions happening in 40 cities throughout the country. This is the time for students, administrators, and the broader community to ramp up the fight for undocumented students and families.”
Earlier this summer, 10 state attorneys general and the Governor of Idaho have threatened a lawsuit if President Trump does not take steps to rescind DACA by September 5, 2017. The approaching “deadline” has prompted the most recent round of movement-building, but the program has been in a state of uncertainty since President Trump was elected. Though a June, 2017 memo issued by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly officially rescinding the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program indicated that DACA would remain in effect for the time being provided temporary relief, it was short-lived. NASPA’s own June statement on the memo applauded the Department’s continued support of DACA, but also acknowledged the continuation of uncertainty on college campuses felt by undocumented students, faculty, and staff. Since the threat of the lawsuit, Secretary Kelly has indicated doubt as to whether the program could survive a legal challenge, citing how DAPA was halted by a Texas led court injunction in 2014.
For the past five years the DACA program has created opportunities for young undocumented immigrants to attend college, receive access to financial assistance, and find a pathway to employment following graduation. Since its inception over 750,000 individuals have received relief through DACA, and the national economy has benefited from the accomplishments of DACA recipients, including projected estimates of increasing the national gross domestic product (GDP) by $230 million in the next decade.
The pending threat to DACA has led over 100 immigrant attorneys and scholars from institutions from across the country to write a letter to President Trump explaining the responsibility for the administration to continue the program, citing a thorough review of immigrant scholarship, legislation, and legal documentation. Former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, now the president of the University of California, has called on Congress to take action to protect undocumented immigrants. While the recent reintroduction of the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that was first introduced in 2001, and other related legislation may signal mounting support for Congressional action, White House spokespersons have indicated President Trump would be unlikely to sign the legislation if passed.
Along with advocacy for more permanent protections for DACA recipients, this past Tuesday provided an opportunity to move the needle forward on ensuring the well-being of all undocumented individuals and mixed-status families, not just those meeting DACA eligibility requirements. Kristina Tendilla’s advocacy organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, in collaboration with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, marked the day by unveiling an expansive set of guiding principles to support the intersectional needs of immigrants, regardless of documentation. These principles specifically rejected the “criminalization, incarceration, and surveillance of communities of color” as well as legislation that even when combined with positive reforms “allocate funds to expand detention, hire additional immigration law enforcement officials, or build border walls.”
These principles refer directly to legislation introduced in Congress to effectively operationalize the Trump Administration’s January Immigration Executive Orders requiring staffing increases of 15,000 within the Department of Homeland Security between Border Control and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). Separate hiring streamlining measures introduced in both the House and Senate as the Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017 passed favorably through committee in July and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Hiring and Retention Act of 2017 was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in late June.
This legislation creates opportunities for flexibility and discretion by the CBP in the hiring process through a concerning methodology of scaling back polygraph testing, which may allow an increase in discriminatory staffing and anti-immigrant rhetoric within ICE and Border Patrol. In response to the ramp up in anti-immigrant policymaking, the Brookings Institution offers additional insight through a concise analysis of immigration statistics which largely debunk criminalization claims from the new administration.
Paying attention to community-based advocacy efforts is one way student affairs professionals can keep their ears on the ground in staying abreast of growing concerns within the student body. Community organizations can also connect undocumented students to resources, especially in areas campuses may be unable to provide services directly, such as legal expertise. NASPA member and featured guest speaker in the upcoming August Policy Briefing Series, Henoc Preciado, Coordinator of the Titan Dreamers Resource Center of California State, Fullerton knows first-hand the value of community-campus partnerships and engagement with undocumented students. Community-based advocacy is just one tool in a set of guidance Henoc will offer in next week’s briefing for student affairs professionals to assist undocumented students on campus during an ambiguous legislative climate.
If you have a specific interest in learning more about DACA and issues facing undocumented students, you may be interested in the February 2017 Policy Briefing Series, DACA: Current Legislative Climate and Advocacy. In order to view past briefing recordings and slides, you can register for free by visiting the Online Learning Community. You may also be interested in our previous blog posts: DACA Explained: Why it’s vulnerable under the Trump Administration, Post 100 Days: Immigration Policy Update, or In-state Tuition for Undocumented Students: 2017 State-level Analysis.
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