Throughout his presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to reverse Barack Obama’s “unconstitutional executive orders” in his first 100 days of office. For Democrats, this was in part a clear reference to Obama’s immigration reform, specifically the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) (The Washington Post, “Trump says he’ll cancel Obama’s ‘unconstitutional’ executive actions. It’s not that easy,” 12.03.16).
In June 2012, the Obama administration established DACA in an effort to protect those brought into the country as children without documentation. DACA status, which is renewed every two years, protects recipients from deportation and provides them work permits (University of California at Berkeley, “DACA Information,” 2017). Also known as DREAMers—named for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which, though also intended to protect residency opportunities for undocumented children, was never passed by Congress—DACA recipients must be under 31 years old at the time of their application and must have a clean criminal record. In addition, they must have lived in the U.S. since 2007 and have arrived before the age of 16. Furthermore, DREAMers must be enrolled in or have graduated from high school or college, or have served in the military. As of 2017, there are about 800,000 DREAMers, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, a majority of whom come from Mexico (NPR, “5 Questions about DACA Answered,” 09.05.17).
DACA was conceived in response to a dearth of legislative action that protected minors brought illegally into the country due to forces outside of their control, and it hoped to address the nation’s ensuing refusal to recognize them as American despite their being raised and educated in the United States. Unsurprisingly, conservative and moderate Republicans alike heavily opposed the creation of the DACA program, accusing Obama of abusing executive powers to force through otherwise legislatively infeasible immigration policy.
As a result, when Trump campaigned strongly against illegal immigration, conservatives saw his election as a means by which to dismantle DACA and, more broadly, to turn back the tides of an evolving—and increasingly liberal—popular sentiment on immigration reform. Since Trump was slow to begin reforming Obama’s immigration policies, on June 10, Republicans pressured the new president by announcing their plan to sue against DACA by “seeking to amend a lawsuit stalled in federal court.” That lawsuit was against another one of Obama’s executive actions, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which sought to extend the protections of DACA to undocumented parents whose children were legal residents or citizens of the United States. As a result, on Sept. 5, the USCIS stopped accepting new applications for DACA that protected undocumented immigrants from deportation. Although DREAMers, whose work permits expire before March 5, 2018, can still apply for their two-year renewal, they are forced to meet a fast-approaching and inconvenient Oct. 5 deadline (NPR).
Trump has left the responsibility of preserving DACA up to Congress, which now has six months to decide if it wishes to legalize the program. However, considering that in the following month Congress must provide disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, in addition to providing funding for the government to avoid a shutdown and addressing the White House’s push for tax overhaul, there is considerable doubt that that GOP leaders will spend political capital to protect the program.
The effects of the Trump administration’s decisions on DACA hit close to home, as Poughkeepsie has the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants in the Hudson Valley. According to the NY State Comptroller, “Immigrants make up 35% of NYC population and about 20% of population in Dutchess County and Long Island.” We as a community should remember that Trump’s decision threatens the wellbeing and livelihoods of our neighbors, and we must stand in solidarity and support of the families of undocumented immigrants who have lived in Poughkeepsie for generations.
Following Trump’s announcement of his plans to phase out DACA, President Elizabeth Bradley sent a community-wide email denouncing the decision. She communicated her plans to join universities in their statements made against the removal of DACA, consult legal counsel and protect students “to the full extent allowed by law.” In addition, President Bradley provided the names of faculty members— Professor of Sociology Eréndira Rueda and Professor of Education Jaime Del Razo—who will serve as resources for students (President Bradley, “A message to the Vassar Community – DACA,” 09.06.2017).
We commend President Bradley for affirming Vassar’s commitment to addressing the effects of this decision. We hope that the College will take further action in the coming months to protect students affected by DACA and communicate said plans to the Vassar community. Furthermore, we urge President Bradley to extend her concern to all students who come from families of immigrants, as all of these people are affected by this presidential administration’s bigoted immigration policies. Additionally, we applaud the Vassar Student Association’s (VSA) timely actions to support students who wished to attend protests in response to these events. By providing a free shuttle and train ticket reimbursements to the Sept. 9 rally in New York and transportation to the Sept. 11 protest in Poughkeepsie, the VSA demonstrated their commitment to encouraging activism both on and off campus (Anish Kanoria, “It’s me again,” 09.11.17).
We at The Miscellany News applaud students who took part in rallies and protests in Poughkeepsie and NYC, and we encourage students to continue to fight Trump’s discriminatory policy. The following is a list of some of the ways that students can resist the repeal of DACA:
Explore your options to volunteer with local groups that do work to benefit migrant populations, both directly and indirectly. The Office of Community-Engaged Learning currently offers fieldwork positions with the Rural and Migrant Ministry, Planned Parenthood and Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, for example. Stop by Main Building N-165 to discuss the possibilities.
Share your story by filling out the anonymous DACA Response and Resource Google Form and/or contacting Yasemin Smallens ’20, who plans to do a podcast on the issue.
Contact state representatives from NY and/ or your hometown and tell them to resist the repeal of DACA. In addition, tell them to co-sponsor and/or support the bipartisan “DREAM Act of 2017,” which paves the road to citizenship for those with DACA or temporary protected status who graduate from a U.S. high school prior to entering college, the workforce or the military.
For more activism opportunities, visit the following websites: We are Here to Stay, the Indivisible Guide and the International Rescue Committee.
If you have DACA status, the following are some online resources: Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Notifica.
Trump’s attempt to halt the DACA program inspires questions about, and fear for, America’s future. It remains unclear which inclusive immigration policies the president will attempt to dismantle next. His actions and rhetoric come as an attack not only on the children of undocumented immigrants, but also on all of the families that have immigrated to the U.S. We as citizens should be prepared for Trump to continue to alter who is able to apply for and receive citizenship and when they may do so. This is acutely un-American, and it is our duty not only to keep fighting bigoted and racist policies as they emerge, but to proactively monitor and challenge the discourse on these issues.
We express our solidarity with students and immigrants who are marginalized by Trump’s hateful agenda. We must strive to make Vassar a safe and protective space for all students and visitors, regardless of their documentation status. It is important that students become informed about these issues before they make headlines, and we must acknowledge the fact that during the majority of the time, we merely react to the decisions that leaders make in this sociopolitical climate. Trump mentioned repealing DACA during his 2016 campaign, yet we are surprised that he is now attempting to achieve it. We must take his words seriously as we witness the setbacks in social progress that Trump consistently proves himself capable of realizing.