As Georgetown students started their second week of class, President Donald Trump made a decision that may bring the academic aspirations of some students here in the United States to a permanent halt: rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The program, which began in 2012, was designed to give temporary residency status to those brought into the United States illegally as children, providing protection for these individuals to work lawfully and attend school without the fear of immediate deportation. Without federal legislation to address their citizenship status, the approximately 800,000 young people that DACA serves could face deportation.
For some DACA recipients of the Georgetown community, last Tuesday’s announcement came as a shock, affecting not only their status as residents but also their lives as students.
“The announcement was happening as I was in class, but I remember not really being able to focus, and I remember just thinking about what was happening with DACA, what was being issued, what was being said,” said Mizraim Belman Guerrero (SFS ‘20), who came to the US from Mexico when he was four.
“I feel angry and disappointed at the Trump administration for throwing DACA beneficiaries under the bus, especially after expressing, on multiple occasions, that he has a heart for Dreamers,” Luis Gonzalez (COL ‘20), who is a DACA recipient, wrote in an email to the Voice. Dreamers, a term for DACA recipients, refers to the DREAM Act, which has failed in Congress several times since it was first introduced to the Senate in 2001. DACA holders hope to transition to “Dreamers” and have legitimate protection from deportation under federal law, especially as it becomes the only possibility for some recipients after last Tuesday’s events.
“The uncertainty leading up to the decision also did not make things better… students were constantly refreshing their news feed waiting for a decision from the White House. It was a difficult situation for all us,” Gonzalez said.
The threat of being deported now lingers over the heads of undocumented Georgetown students. DACA recipients must renew their status every two years to remain in the United States legally. Although Guerrero renewed with the program in August and is safe from deportation until at least 2019, anyone whose status is not set to expire until after March 5, 2018 cannot renew and is entirely dependent upon the creation of federal legislation.
“It’s hard to separate the two: being undocumented and being a student. As students we usually prioritize being in school first, but it really can begin to hit you hard, being undocumented.” Guerrero said.
The university has not assigned itself the term “sanctuary campus,” a title that indicates its commitment to full protection of undocumented students even if this requires a refusal to comply with federal immigration law, even as student activist groups have lobbied the administration for this status. The university, however, has taken a clear stance in support of its undocumented community.
University President John J. DeGioia released a statement on Sept. 5 in response to Trump’s executive action. “This morning, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This is an unconscionable decision affecting eight hundred thousand young people around our country, including students right here at Georgetown.”
President DeGioia met with undocumented students on Tuesday and highlighted resources offered to undocumented students, including a partnership with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services to provide free legal counsel.
The university administration has provided a system of protection for undocumented students, providing what seems to be some temporary solace during this new political period.
“President DeGioia is a champion for undocumented students. He is knowledgeable about our circumstances, and most importantly, he cares deeply about ensuring we are keeping up with our studies. When a group of us met with him on Tuesday, I felt reassured Georgetown would do everything in its power to ensure we were protected.” Gonzalez said .
Earlier this month, the university announced the hiring of its first full-time associate director for undocumented student services. Arelis Palacios, who assumed the position on a part-time basis in November of last year, will now be fully devoted to supporting undocumented students on campus.
“I’m working across all campuses at the moment to help support students, and we’ll continue to help students along their educational trajectories as best as we can. The short-term strategy is to help students renew their DACA’s before the Oct. 5 deadline, and for the long-term, we’re hopeful that we can work together to identify these strategies,” Palacios wrote in an email to the Voice.
The university has also taken an active role in protecting undocumented students in the political sphere.
During Tuesday’s meeting with undocumented students, university administrators said that the university would continue to lobby Congress on behalf of the DREAM Act under the leadership of Associate Vice President for Federal Relations, Scott Fleming, according to Gonzalez.
Any DACA recipient whose status expires on or before March 5 can apply for an additional two-year extension, so long as they do so by Oct. 5. For all other recipients on Georgetown’s campus and beyond, the only thing left to do is wait and watch Congress through these next six months in the hope that more permanent legislation will pass.
“Now, having a year at this institution and being really welcomed with open arms, by the administration, by students, it has felt great,” said Guerrero. “I know that this is a space that we can call home and be able to continue not only my studies but to continue my fight as an immigrant for equal rights, for something more permanent than DACA.”
Image Credit: Hannah Levine