Thousands at risk of deportation if DACA ends: Students and administration fight back

President Alison Byerly said she hopes Lafayette’s participation in the amicus brief “is helpful to the arguments that will be made in support of DACA in the nation’s highest court in November.” (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Next week, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments to decide if the upwards of 700,000 undocumented immigrants covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will lose the protections they gained under the Obama administration. For DACA recipients on campus, this could potentially spell the end of their college careers in the United States and puts them at risk of being separated from their families.

In response to the upcoming arguments, the college has signed an amicus brief, a document submitted by non-litigants to advise the court in their decision, in support of DACA. Along with 165 other amicis, or signers of the amicus, Lafayette has added their voice to the call to preserve DACA and the protections it provides.

“Our nation and institution have made a commitment to the success of Dreamers [DACA recipients], and the continuation of DACA is essential to their educations and futures,” President Alison Byerly wrote in an email to the campus. “I hope that Lafayette’s participation in this amicus brief is helpful to the arguments that will be made in support of DACA in the nation’s highest court in November.”

DACA started as an executive memorandum in 2012 under the Obama administration, and allowed some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children a two-year period of deferred action from deportation. In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the memorandum, preventing any new applications to the program, although current DACA recipients were still able to renew. 

“I was really impressed to see…our name amongst so many other noted colleges and universities,” said Ana Luhrs, reference librarian for the Government and Law Department and Skillman Library as well as an advocate for DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants on campus. “I applaud the college for taking a public and bold stance.”

Even with the amicus and the support of over 70 percent of the population according to CBS News , the future of DACA remains unsure. For students currently protected under DACA, this is a time of fear and uncertainty.

“It’s…first and foremost, it’s really scary,” Luhrs said. “[If DACA is rescinded] I would just be really concerned for what that means in terms of mental health and the ability for these students to function on a day-to-day basis.”

Those previously covered under the program risk deportation if DACA is eliminated, often to a country they haven’t been to since childhood. For some college students, being unable to renew their DACA status could mean separation from their families and the end of their college career in the United States.

“There’s still that fear of separation from your family members, if your family is here,” Flor de Maria Caceres Godoy ‘22, a current DACA recipient, said. “You never know what’s going to happen…every day. It’s at the back of my head. ‘Oh, hey, am I going to be able to speak to my parents when I go home or over the phone this night?’”

“[If DACA is rescinded], people will have to figure out like, what do I do next? Can I go home? What is home right now? Is America home? Is my birth country home, how do I get home? How do I find other means by which to stay here?” Luhr said. “I feel like all hell’s going to break loose.”

Although DACA recipients themselves will bear the brunt of the effects if DACA is rescinded, the communities they live in will also experience an immense loss. According to the amicus brief signed by the school, American colleges and universities “benefit profoundly from the presence of immigrant students on our campuses.”

The document also states that “DACA students contribute immeasurably to our campuses,” and that “DACA students have had great academic and co-curricular success at our schools.” In addition to their impact on campus, several studies have noted that DACA recipients and the communities they live in experience educational and economic gains from their presence.

“Our DACA students, they are courageous. They are activists. They care, they bring a different perspective that oftentimes other people are just sheltered from because they’ve never had to encounter someone that’s come to this country under those circumstances,” Luhr said. “I think there’s actually a lot to lose if DACA gets rescinded for everybody, not just for DACA recipients.” 

When the Trump administration announced its decision to rescind DACA in 2017, Byerly wrote in an email to the campus that the college would do “all [it] can to support [DACA recipients].”

According to Caceres, a significant part of this support, from the school and from students, comes from education.

Caceras, along with Milena Berestko ‘22, has organized a DACA workshop and student led protest for this coming Sunday in preparation for the Supreme Court arguments. Working with student organizations across campus, as well as members of the administration in the Office of Intercultural Development, Caceras and Berestko said they hope to provide education on DACA and the experiences of undocumented immigrants on campus.

“Awareness…and education can open people’s eyes to see how, ‘Well, I’m living a safe life, I can go vote on wherever issues I want to support,’ and they will not even think of immigration as one of the issues to actually consider and ponder about,” Berestko said. “It’s just knowing how to support people.”

“I think it’s also the idea of privilege and who has the privilege,” she added. “How can you use your own privilege [to help these students]?”

In addition to education, Caceras noted the importance of providing emotional support to those affected by the current uncertainty.

“Just being there gives them a level of stability,” she said. “Just making sure that they’re okay, knowing that they have you…as a support network.”

Although DACA recipients are unable to apply for federal student aid, the college currently offers financial aid to students who are here under the program. Byerly told the Lafayette that the college plans to continue this practice, even if DACA is eliminated next week. The school will also continue to offer pro bono legal counsel to DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants.

Luhr added that the college is also taking steps towards “establishing a more formal structure or program for our students” in the future.

Even with these programs in place, Caceras said that the college still has a ways to go, especially in terms of educating faculty on issues specific to DACA recipients and other immigrants.

“I’d say they have taken baby steps in the right direction, but they need to take bigger strides,” she said. “Keep increasing that community of undocumented students and DACA recipients and those who would be willing to support them, as well as educating the faculty and staff…to make sure that they’re well aware of what’s going on with immigration, staying up to date, [and] using the right terminology.”

“If we could have…this transparency and openness, we will create a bigger space for those who come in the following years to come to this campus and feel comfortable and safe here,” Berestko added.

The workshop will be this Sunday at 3p.m. in Kirby 104, followed by a march for solidarity at 5p.m. starting in front of Kirby.

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