“I don’t know what I’m going to do.” As professors, we heard this reaction over and over again in the weeks following last November’s presidential election from many students who now face frightening uncertainties. Some are undocumented, brought here as children, who specifically rely upon the DACA program to study, work, and protect them from deportation. Others have loved-ones who are DACA participants or who face other immigration-related legal challenges. Facing students in our own classes newly at-risk, we tried to hide from them the fact that, among ourselves, we were also saying “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
On a campaign trail steeped in virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, candidate Donald Trump vowed to rescind DACA, stripping deportation protection and work authorization from nearly 800,000 people brought to the U.S. as children without documentation. After the election, President Trump sent mixed signals. Then, on September 5, Trump announced that he is rescinding DACA. The decision left colleges scrambling to produce answers, supports, and resources for our students. This emergency response is happening at campuses all over the country. It’s necessary and important. It’s also fundamentally insufficient. This piecemeal approach in no way adequately supports immigrant students in our classrooms, on our college campuses and workplaces, or in Congress.
University campuses of all stripes moved to support undocumented and “DACAmented” students with a range of efforts after Trump’s surprise win. Our institution, the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, launched new fundraising efforts. Many others have formed specialized student scholarships, increased the number of culturally competent mental service providers on campuses, organized know your rights workshops, provided legal counseling and even legal representation for affected students and their families, lobbied elected officials, and provided messages of support to campus communities. In many cases, affected students themselves have partnered with faculty, staff, and administrators to help craft these institutional supports.
Now campuses are in uncharted territory, facing new difficult questions: Should campus police ask students about their documentation status? How can affected students continue their education and valuable on-campus work? What are the university’s legal rights and obligations when it interacts with federal immigration authorities? Who should students contact on campus if they are detained by ICE? Even for universities that have long developed thoughtful strategies for undocumented students, the uncertainty introduced by the election and the lead-up to rescinding DACA has resulted in a range of improvisational and contingent efforts.
DACA itself is a symptom of a larger problem.
Our government’s continued reliance on piecemeal immigration reforms makes even the most well-resourced and well-intentioned university measures insufficient. DACA itself is a symptom of a larger problem — Congress’s repeated failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
(CIR), including a legalization program, for over three decades. That failure has led to a fragmentary policy approach to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States, a number that includes people who were brought here as youth, whose future now hinges on Congress.
Rather than continuing to say “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” educators should follow the lead of immigration activists ― many of whom have DACA ― and fight for the expansion of immigrants’ rights in the face of the Trump administration’s retrenchment. The University of California system has taken a bold step in this direction by suing the Trump administration for rescinding DACA. Sixteen states, along with Washington, D.C. and the city of San Jose have also filed suit. Despite these efforts and significant bipartisan support for providing permanent protection for undocumented young people and their loved ones, Congress has yet to act. So universities like ours are left to continue to craft ad hoc supports, which are both critically important and fundamentally inadequate.