In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Sept. 5., U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rescission of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
DACA was implemented in 2012 and allowed the possibility for deferred action for undocumented youth, provided they met certain criteria. In the year 2015, the U.S Department of Homeland Security estimated that over 680,000 undocumented youth were protected by the policy.
Deferred action is the decision by the U.S Department of Homeland Security not to remove an undocumented youth from the country for an initial period of two years, which can then be renewed on an ad hoc basis. During this period, a DACA recipient can live, attend school and on occasion work in the United States.
In order to be eligible, the undocumented youth must have arrived in the United States before the age of 16, must have lived in the country since June 15, 2007 and must not have been of lawful status on June 15, 2012. In addition, he or she must be currently enrolled in school, have obtained their high school diploma or equivalency or have been honorably discharged from either the U.S Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard.
Sessions stated that the decision was made in order to properly enforce the country’s immigration laws, and will take effect in March of 2018.
“We are a people of compassion and we are a people of law. But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” he said. “Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism.”
To Maria Nieto, an international student at Manhattan College, the rescission of DACA could communicate a message of unwelcomeness to the world outside of America.
“I perceived, in Spain, an idea of the United States being the best country in the world where opportunities happened and where people achieved their dream jobs,” she said. “And in these two years now, I see that friends of mine have changed that idea, saying ‘I’d rather stay in [Spain]; I don’t feel welcome.’”
Though Sessions’ address to the nation was harsh toward undocumented citizens, Associate Professor of Government Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., believes that most of America views DACA recipients as different from other undocumented citizens. This majority could even include President Trump himself.
“The rhetoric of [Trump’s] campaign was very anti-immigration but he seemed to see this group of people as different,” Groarke said. “This is the most sympathetic group of undocumented Americans. Many people who otherwise are pretty tough on illegal immigration think that we have to carve out some status for these people.”
Hayden Greene, the director of multicultural affairs at MC, believes that Sessions’ statement has some truth to it, but wrongfully targets undocumented youth who are pursuing a better life in America.
“I think that there are issues with our immigration policy, and there are issues with every immigration policy, but I think that there are better solutions than kicking the children of the people who immigrated into this country out of the country when they’re moving towards being viable citizens,” Greene said.
For many DACA recipients, one of the moves toward becoming a viable citizen is going to college. Debbi Damico, director of international students at MC, believes that DACA recipients should have as much access to higher education as resident applicants.
“I’ve been here for 34 years, and in all the time I’ve been here, before DACA even came into existence, there have been students who have attended this school and were undocumented. There’s no law that says you can’t attend college, whether you have documents or not,” Damico said.
Federal law does not explicitly bar undocumented youth from attending college, nor can it inquire about an applicant’s citizenship status. But there are other factors which can deter undocumented applicants, such as legal paperwork and lack of access to other resources which are readily available to applicants who are citizens.
Furthermore, the cost of higher education is a significant factor. Undocumented youth are not eligible for Title IV federal financial aid, which includes work-study programs, student loans and grants. There are other options such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), state and college aid and private scholarships, but eligibility requirements vary by state and institution.
But for the institution of MC in particular, there was unwavering support for undocumented students. Following Sessions’ Tuesday statement, Vice President for Student Life Richard Satterlee, Ph.D., addressed the concerns of the community through a mass email sent later that day.
“Manhattan College remains steadfastly committed to the core values of our Lasallian Catholic tradition, which calls us to support all of our students, regardless of their immigration status, citizenship or nationality,” Satterlee’s email said.
Damico believes that the statement released by Satterlee was crucial in reaffirming the Lasallian commitment to social justice and education.
“When de La Salle started, he educated the poor children who didn’t have access to education,” Damico said. “People who didn’t have access to education were the people he looked to educate. So I think it’s perfectly keeping with the Lasallian tradition.”
Furthermore, other Lasallian-affiliated clubs and organizations on campus have extended their support for undocumented immigrants, particularly those who might be attending MC. One of these organizations was the JustPeace club.
“We firmly stand with the belief that DACA is just and that ending the program will lead to harmful and unnecessary consequences,” the club said in an email statement. “We will do our part to protect any Manhattan College Dreamers by opposing President Trump’s action and by helping anyone affected to get the resources and support they need.”
For Greene, the long path to legal residency is a personal issue near and dear to his heart, as he is a legal permanent resident of the United States, and has been one since 1988. He applied for his green card upon graduating high school in Trinidad, and estimated that his application for permanent residency took a period of two to three years to complete.
“It’s not as easy as simply saying, ‘Okay well I’ll go down to the local embassy, apply to be a citizen, or apply [for a] visitor visa or apply for a permanent residency visa, and in two months or three months, I’ll have it and I’ll be out of here,’” he said. “There are a lot of hurdles and obstacles that are, depending who you talk to, intentionally put in the way to prevent certain people from gaining citizenship.”
Nieto, who is from Spain, had relatively few obstacles from the U.S. Embassy when applying for her student visa. However, this is not always the case, especially for international students from countries with rockier relationships with America.
“I have a few friends from Mexico, and the questions that they’re asked and the way those questions are asked, from what they’ve told me, they want more detail, much more in depth,” Nieto said. “For me, it was no problem. They asked me three questions.”
According to Groarke, the rescission may not be here to stay. However, she believes change must come through the words and actions of the American people.
“If people in Congress and people in the Trump administration feel pressured to do something, we could see an extension of DACA or even something bigger than that, like a DREAM act that would give DACA recipients the option to apply for citizenship at some point,” she said.
Whether a DREAM act or the DACA rescission is the next step, undocumented students should be taking steps to protect themselves and their rights. Tamara Britt, MC’s newly appointed general counsel, gave some insight to these precautionary measures.
“They should definitely be working with one of a variety of resources, either a non-profit and/or an immigration attorney,” she said. She also warned against possible immigration scams, which could potentially take advantage of undocumented students in a particularly contentious or emotional time such as this one.
While Britt herself cannot be utilized as a resource by undocumented students, she listed a variety of nonprofits which may assist them, such as the National Hispanic Bar Association and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
“This is a vital time where those resources are more useful now than ever, especially in New York,” Britt said. “If you’re in New York right now, you’re sort of at the epicenter of assistance, of help. You’re where you need to be.”
Furthermore, Greene offered the Multicultural Center, located in the Kelly Student Commons in Room 3.03, as a safe space for undocumented students.
“We don’t treat anybody who walks through our doors any differently. Everybody has a place here, everybody has a right to be here,” Greene said. “We don’t ask people what their status is when they walk through here.”
DACA may have been rescinded for the time being, but one thing is certain: MC will continue to stand by all of its students regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Alexa Schmidt contributed on reporting.