President Obama’s decision to begin the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was monumental; after more than 15 years of debate, young, undocumented immigrants finally had a program that could temporarily halt their fears of deportation. President Trump’s decision to repeal DACA was—perhaps catastrophically—just as monumental. He recently reversed his position after meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and decided to work on a plan that will protect DACA recipients. The plan’s nature and contents still remain unclear, however, as millions of people must now navigate a legal status limbo.
DACA, created in 2012, is not a naturalization program. Instead, it provides 800,000 recipients with a two-year commitment of avoiding initiating deportation proceedings and a work permit. The program was one of the most notable achievements of the Obama administration despite him deporting more people than any other president in American history.
In 2015, a group of state attorney generals tried to sue the Obama administration over the constitutionality of the program—their lawsuit was dismissed. This year, another group of state attorney generals threated to sue the Trump administration, again claiming that DACA is unconstitutional. Trump ended up repealing the program entirely to circumvent this litigation. His decision to repeal the program expedited DACA’s impending expiration without a clear indication of what is to come for undocumented immigrants.
This murky future could be devastating for those who have spent most of their lives in the US. A survey by Tom Wong, a political science professor at UC San Diego, found that the average age that DACA recipients entered the US was six-and-a-half. Because of this, most Dreamers (a name for people protected under DACA) did not even know their immigration status until they were teenagers and discovered their lack of a social security number.
At Tufts’ United for Immigrant Justice’s (UIJ) rally, an undocumented student named Juan shared his experience coming to the US. Juan always knew of his status and has encountered many hardships throughout the years.
“I never really understood how different I was until I realized that I was the only one of my friends that had felt the fear of seeing my parents go to work, go the store, even go for a walk and wonder if he was ever going to see them again,” he said in a video posted by UIJ. “I was the only one seeing my parents break their backs to make sure that me and my sister had enough to eat, their health deteriorating day by day.” The impact of DACA not only meant that Juan was able to access higher education, but it gave him a way to contribute financially and drive his “parents around without the fear of them getting stopped and deported for a simple traffic ticket.”
As Alejandro, another DACA recipient at the UIJ rally, put it, “DACA granted me a sense of humanity.” It allowed him to attend college and a respite from the fear and anxiety that can come with being undocumented.
“With the repeal of DACA comes the rush of debilitating feelings that had accompanied me since I learned of my status and the fear that I would be pushed back in the shadows, enveloped in fear,” he said.
Professor of Sociology Helen Marrow stated, “the impact of repealing or letting DACA expire will be devastating. Not only to the students affected, but to their families and communities who are seeing indirect gains from it too.”
The national economy is projected to take a hit from this repeal, as it is estimated that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be reduced by several hundred billion dollars without the contributions of Dreamers over the next decade. Other effects of the DACA repeal could be seen almost immediately as well: 25 percent of the workers who helped rebuild New Orleans post-Katrina were undocumented. With immense amounts of hurricane damage in both Houston and Florida, rebuilding could be slowed without the contributions of undocumented people.
Many colleges have backed the almost 241,000 Dreamers attending their institutions today. The University of California system is suing the Trump administration over the repeal. Additionally, they have instructed campus police that they will not serve as surrogates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, meaning they cannot work on behalf of ICE agents to stop or detain anyone. Along similar lines, Harvard issued a statement that police would not serve as surrogate ICE agents and “maintain its practice of not inquiring about the immigration status of students, staff, or faculty.”
At Tufts, the swift response over DACA’s uncertainty has been reassuring.
“Oftentimes letters from the President can be pretty lukewarm,” said junior Cecilia Rodriguez Mora, the Political Director for the Tufts Democrats. “I was surprised by how clear the administration came out in support of DACA. I just really hope that’s going to transfer into Tufts then protecting DACA students when the time comes.”
But unlike Harvard and the California system, the statement Tufts released did not ensure that Tufts University Police Department will not serve as surrogate ICE agents or inquire about immigration status. When asked, the Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins said that, “TUPD does not have the legal authority to enforce Federal Immigration Laws, and therefore would not assist ICE with enforcement removal operations for DACA or undocumented students.”
Still, the relations between administration and student groups on campus remain amicable. Emma Kahn, a senior involved in UIJ, explained that the rapport between UIJ and the administration, “has been collaborative in general. What that has looked like is UIJ being really firm and adamant on what we are pushing, and [the administration] being really open to that.” Kahn also confirmed that President Monaco’s statement was written by the administration alone, and that UIJ did not have any involvement.
Although large institutions supporting undocumented students is critical, the future of Dreamers is more nebulous than ever. What seems inevitable, though, is that without DACA, many undocumented immigrants will no longer have the right to work permits. This could be substantially detrimental to college students’ education, as they may not be able to afford extra costs like books, food, or transportation without a steady income.
Moreover, the support from large institutions is starting to feel less substantial—to no legal fault of the institutions themselves. Tufts vowed to protect their undocumented students, but without the DACA program and the backing of the Obama administration, they may not have the same power.
“I felt so strongly that this decision by the university could make some powerful structural changes,” expressed Kahn, in reference to the 2015 decision from admissions to change their policy towards undocumented students. “But now, I think the university is being forced to ask questions how it can really mitigate these massive barriers put in place by our immigration system. Tufts itself cannot bring back DACA.”
Robert Mack, Associate Dean of Student Success and Advising, advises DACA and undocumented students. Dean Mack said that, “Tufts is working closely with outside immigration counsel and other local area schools to determine how best to augment the security of its DACA and undocumented student population.” Some services provided by the school include providing DACA and undocumented students with individual legal consultations free of charge, offering Know Your Rights seminars and other trainings hosted by the Student Immigration Movement, and being able to relocate DACA and undocumented students to residences in Somerville if they decide they would feel more comfortable living in a sanctuary city.
Concerning student organizations, UIJ held their rally to defend DACA and immigrant rights as well as educate the Tufts community about what the DACA repeal means. The events and efforts of groups like UIJ have galvanized major breakthroughs for undocumented students at Tufts in the past few years, such as undocumented students now being able to have campus jobs and receive payment for assisting professors in research.
Tufts became a leader in undocumented-friendly campuses when it pledged its support of DACA, expressed its willingness to protect undocumented students, and urged the new administration to continue and expand the DACA program in 2016. The university continues to work on this issue, as Dean Mack stated that “Tufts also was invited to file a declaration in support of the Attorney General’s legal challenge because of the university’s leadership role on this issue.” And yet, with the repeal of DACA and no concrete plans on the horizon, Tufts might be forced break a promise it can no longer fulfill, leaving undocumented students with an uncertain future.