College Reaffirms Protections for DACA Students
President Biddy Martin sent a community-wide email on Sept. 5 condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In her email, she emphasized the college’s commitment to recruiting and protecting students with DACA status.
DACA, an executive action signed into law under the Obama administration, provided temporary status to undocumented immigrants with a spotless criminal record who arrived in the United States before 15 years of age and were working toward a high school diploma or GED. Temporary status included work permits, driver’s licenses and the possibility of status renewal every two years. DACA recipients are often referred to as Dreamers.
On Sept. 5, Trump ended DACA and called on Congress to pass legislation that would “advance responsible immigration reform,” citing the need for “reliable enforcement” of immigration law, according to a statement on the White House website. DACA will wind down in six months, and nearly 800,000 in the program will be impacted.
Martin called the decision “reprehensible” and called on members of the college community to contact elected representatives and appeal for legislative action and remedies before the six-month deadline. The college will continue to admit and meet every student’s financial aid need regardless of legal status, she added.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be providing support for students, and Martin wrote that students affected by the order should contact Tenzin Kunor, associate director of diversity and leadership.
Bryan Torres ’18E, a DACA student who undertook a 23-day journey from El Salvador to the United States when he was 12 years old, said he appreciated Martin’s email for its acknowledgment of the DACA students on campus and the college’s public support.
“The administration is taking better action on it than previous semesters that I’ve been through,” he said.
The news about Trump ending DACA had surprised Torres. He had seen it coming, he said, but was “frustrated, disappointed and worried because it has been a program that helped not only me personally, but also a lot of other Dreamers out there achieve their dreams, go to school, get jobs, get drivers’ licenses [and] relieve them of the fear of deportation.”
Torres added that he had not expected Trump to end DACA at this time, with hurricanes and issues of health care affecting the country.
According to Torres, who said he knows about 15 to 20 DACA recipients in the Pioneer Valley, DACA students are feeling betrayed, anxious and disappointed.
“It’s like they gave you something that was supposed to be a relief, and then they take it away, so now everyone is like, ‘All the hard work that I did or whatever I accomplished — what now?’” Torres said.
Once their status expires, Torres said, there’s no guarantee for a future in the U.S.
“The waiting and anxiety was the sense I was getting from Dreamers,” he said. “It’s a limbo situation.”
Torres said the college reached out to him through Kunor and said that Kunor would support him in any capacity. The college has also made an immigration attorney accessible for any concerned students.
“Even some professors have reached out to me and offered their support,” Torres added.
Unless summoned by a legally issued subpoena or judicial order, Martin said, the college will not share any students’ records against their wishes with any individual or government agency, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Campus police will also refrain from taking action with ICE or inquiring about legal status.
Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey, who spoke to The Student on behalf of Kunor and members of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, wrote in an email that “we continue to support DACA and unDACAmented students by providing services including individual counseling, legal advocacy and connections to campus- and community-based organizations.” The college’s DACA website is updated regularly, she said, and includes travel advisories and advice for interactions with an immigration official.
According to Professor of Sociology Leah Schmalzbauer, who has been engaged in immigration research and activism, DACA was instituted in 2012 after Congress repeatedly failed to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.”
“What makes the DACA recipients really different than other immigrant groups is that they have been really celebrated by both parties as being exceptional,” Schmalzbauer said. “What tends to get held up in the media are the many who are valedictorians or very successful students who go on to great schools like Amherst or Harvard.”
But that’s not the majority of Dreamers, Schmalzbauer added.
“The majority are just trying to work and make a life for themselves in the U.S.,” she said
Schmalzbauer said she fears that the Trump administration is setting up Congress to legislate permanent protections for Dreamers at the expense of “millions of other undocumented immigrants who don’t fit into that exceptional category” and potentially increasing deportations.
“Most students who are DACAmented have undocumented parents, and so … they’re not just concerned about themselves — they’re concerned about their parents,” Schmalzbauer said, adding that students had voiced their worry for their parents to her. “What we don’t want is to set up policies and laws that protect students but deport their parents.”
Dreamers who have been in touch with Schmalzbauer also feel “tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, … like their physical health is also being impacted,” she said. “It’s very violent — it’s an act of violence on these kids and families.”
Though Schmalzbauer said she could not speak for the college in terms of what it would be willing to do beyond the law, she said she and many faculty members are willing to break laws to protect their students.
“Deportation is one of the most violent things that can happen to a person — it divides families, it separates people from countries they consider their own, it also can make people move to a place that is not safe for them,” she said. “It’s a rupture in students’ life.”
For Torres, future plans have certainly changed. He will graduate from Amherst in December and had planned on going abroad for the spring semester before graduating officially at the commencement ceremony in May. But advanced parole, an application that allows immigrants to travel outside the United States and return lawfully, has been cancelled and no longer accepts requests. Instead, he will look into options in the workforce and graduate school.
He hopes, however, that Congress will come to an agreement and pass legislation more stable than DACA.
Though he is the only DACA student on campus that has been publicly outspoken about his status, Torres said that “it’s just something that I have to do.”
One of the reasons he decided to apply to the college was seeing an alum who “was very outspoken about being a Dreamer.”
“That inspired me to know that it was possible,” Torres said. “That’s why I’m trying to be outspoken, because if people don’t see that a college at Amherst has someone who’s talking about it, people aren’t going to have the desire to apply, especially the Dreamers that are living with fear and that are trying to get ahead with their education.”