DACA advocates now look to Congress

Undocumented students join a rally this weekend in support of the DACA program outside the Edward Roybal Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: AP/Damian Dovarganes)

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced that it will wind down a program allowing certain young, undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., but it is giving Congress a six-month window to find a solution for the so-called “Dreamers.”

The administration will immediately stop accepting new applications under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but it will renew two-year work permits until March 6, meaning the program will not be fully phased out until March 2020.

Education advocates supporting DACA have already started to mobilize to urge Congress to restore DACA.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which said it was disappointed with the decision, noted in a release to member colleges that protecting DACA and Dreamer students remains ones of its top priorities. AACC encouraged two-year colleges to reach out to their congressional representatives.

“Community colleges serve a diverse student body, including immigrants who are working toward a better life for themselves and their families,” the association said. “AACC understands that supporting these students individually strengthens our country as a whole.”

Individual colleges and college systems are already calling on lawmakers to quickly move on the matter.

“I am deeply saddened to see today’s announcement regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in Washington, and my thoughts quickly turn to the more than 1,000 community college students across Virginia whose future hangs in the balance as this policy debate plays out,” according to a statement by Glenn Dubois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “Further, I join the chorus heard across America calling on Congress to quickly enact sensible and compassionate immigration policy.”

“It is our sincere hope that bipartisan legislation to protect DACA is swiftly adopted to alleviate fears and uncertainty DACA students and their families are experiencing,” said Leah Bornstein, president of Aims Community College (ACC) in Colorado. “We will communicate our support of DACA to our congressional delegation immediately.”

In California — which has the largest number of DACA individuals — the San Diego Community College District, in addition to immediately starting its advocacy for DACA, said it will schedule legal workshops at the campuses as soon as possible so that DACA students can learn about their rights and seek legal protection.

The district added that it will not act on behalf of federal agencies to enforce immigration laws or aid in deportation; share student records containing confidential information without written consent, a court order or other legal mandate; and its college police will not participate in any voluntary program of immigration enforcement.

“As a public institution of higher education, we work diligently to ensure that all students have full access to our institutions and are protected from pressures and intrusive actions that would disrupt or impair their education,” the district said.

Facing legal action

The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap as it pushed unsuccessfully for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress. Many Republicans say they opposed the program on the grounds that it was executive overreach.

September 5 was the deadline set by a group of Republican state officials who said they would challenge DACA in court unless the Trump administration rescinded the program. Administration officials argued the program might not hold up in court, adding that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would throw the program into chaos.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and a handful of other Republicans urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA to give lawmakers time to come up with a legislative fix.

One bill addressing the issue that has received the most attention, introduced in July by Sens. Graham (R-South Carolina) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), would grant permanent legal status to more than 1 million young people who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 18, passed security checks and met other criteria, including enrolling in college, joining the military or finding jobs.

If Congress were not to act, and DACA begins to expire, nearly 300,000 people could begin to lose their status in 2018, and more than 320,000 would lose their status from January to August 2019. More than 200,000 recipients have their DACA expiring in the window that U.S. Department of Homeland Security will allow renewal.

GOP leaders are hopeful

Several prominent Republican lawmakers have indicated they are willing to deal on DACA. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement he hoped the “House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), who himself attended a community college, said he would introduce legislation this week to provide a permanent path to legal status for DACA recipients who serve in the military, pursue higher education or are employed.

“President Trump is wisely giving Congress a period of time to fulfill its responsibility to legislate and take long-term action to address the uncertainty facing undocumented children, who were brought to America through no fault of their own,” Tillis said in a statement.

Sen Marco Rubio (R-Florida) called on Trump to explicitly spell out what kind of measure for DACA recipients he would be willing to sign, so that Congress doesn’t “waste” time with bills that have no future while facing so many other pressing priorities.

“We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president won’t sign,” he said in a statement.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and John McCain (R-Arizona) also released statements urging congressional action.

Editor’s note: AP reports were used in this article.

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