President Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency has raised many questions regarding the status of DACA students, or those who are protected under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy of 2012. These students are given a deferral of deportation if they arrived in the U.S. as children.
Trump’s hardline immigration stances, including his campaign suggestions that most or all undocumented immigrants be deported, has called students’ DACA status into question. For students at the University, being subject to federal immigration laws has raised the question of safe spaces on Grounds.
DACA and College Students:
In 2015, the Center for American Progress reported that about 665,000 people were dependent on DACA for their residency in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, “The Department of Homeland Security will exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines.”
For college students specifically, the DACA program has led to increased educational and job opportunities for immigrants. According to a national survey conducted by University of California, San Diego Asst. Politics Prof. Tom K. Wong and National Immigration Law Center, DACA significantly increased educational success for impacted students.
The survey reported that 92 percent of those in school had “pursued educational opportunities [they] previously could not.”
Pressures for the University under Trump administration:
According to the Pew Research Center, the DACA program may be immediately cancelled as promised due its ties to the Obama administration, or it may be phased out over time due to each DACA expiring after two years.
In response to the uncertainty of the Trump administration’s stance on this issue, over 700 University students and faculty signed a petition in November 2016 to ask University President Teresa Sullivan to prioritize DACA holders on Grounds. Since taking office, Trump has been unclear about his intentions towards repealing DACA, noting in a press conference on Feb. 16 that his administration will “deal with DACA with heart” and called it a “very difficult subject.” Trump has not issued a repeal of DACA.
The petition asked the University to “affirm its commitment to the safety and security of all students, and especially to DACA students.”
Proposed protections also included supporting DACA students to receive equal scholarship and financial aid opportunities. The petition also called for the University to be a “sanctuary campus” for DACA students. The University has not made the decision to declare itself a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants.
Sanctuary campuses protect DACA and undocumented students unless under a direct court order or warrant. The term is derived from the concept of sanctuary cities, which refers to cities who refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities. On the campaign trail, Trump noted several times that such cities are technically breaking the law in declaring themselves ‘sanctuaries,’ and stated that such cities should not receive federal funds.
Adam Kimelman, vice chair of campaigns for the College Republicans and second-year College student, said the ambiguity of what a sanctuary campus makes the legalities involved vague.
“It’s a very complicated topic because the whole idea behind sanctuary campuses has a very strong moral backing in the fact that it feels like something we should be doing,” Kimelman said. “We should be giving lots of resources, we should be protecting students who go to U.Va. who are our classmates. Where it becomes a very large gray area is with legalities. We start choosing which laws to follow or which laws not to follow.”
Virginia Chambers, a first-year College student and communications director for the University Democrats, also said she had doubts about whether the University could be a sanctuary campus.
“We are always interested in turning U.Va. into a sanctuary campus or turning Charlottesville into a sanctuary city if that were possible,” Chambers said in an email statement. “I don’t think it will happen because of the Dillon Rule in Virginia, which puts limits on what localities can do without the consent of the state itself.”
As a Dillon Rule state, Virginia has limited “home rule” or local authority in comparison to other states.
Current self-proclaimed sanctuary campuses include the University of Pennsylvania and Wesleyan University and ongoing protests to establish a sanctuary campus are occurring at universities across the country.
DREAMers on Grounds President and third-year Curry student Paola Sanchez said the University was generally helpful in providing resources to undocumented students.
“U.Va., when compared to other schools in the south, has been very receptive to the demands of DREAMers,” Sanchez said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Nonetheless, I believe the University still has a long way to go. U.Va. has yet to release a statement particularly pertaining to the protection and support of their undocumented students.”
For instance, the University of Michigan publicly stated its intent to “protect the interests of our international community of scholars” and undocumented immigrants in January.
“On their financial services website, [the University of Michigan] have a whole tab dedicated to the financial concerns of undocumented students,” Sanchez said. “Meanwhile, most undocumented prospective students who apply to U.Va., are often unsure of their financial future will look like at the University.”
Resources at the University:
Though the University has not made a public statement supporting a sanctuary campus, Sullivan and Executive Vice President and Provost Tom Katsouleas said in January that they would protect the immigration status of students, and keep this status confidential.
Multicultural Student Services is one of the resources on Grounds where multicultural students can find support.
According to its website, the mission of the MSS is to “to promote belonging and engagement for underrepresented and marginalized students” and to “enhance the undergraduate experience through co-curricular programs and culturally relevant services that are meant to empower students in their identity, build community, and provide holistic support for diverse students.”
Vicki Gist, assistant dean of students and director of Multicultural Student Services, stated the importance of making MSS functions available specifically to undocumented students.
“While all of the University’s resources are easily accessible, undocumented students may not feel comfortable sharing their status with many people,” Gist said in an email statement. “ODOS Multicultural Students Services, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, and the International Studies Office have partnered to reach out to undocumented students since last semester. We encourage them to seek us out so that we can help to facilitate their connection to necessary resources in a way that maintains their privacy and comfort.”
The Multicultural Student Center also acts as a centralized place for multicultural students to gather in a safe, collaborative space.
Additionally, the University offers Just Report It, a service that utilizes student reports to reduce racist or homophobic activity on campus.
On the website for Just Report It, Sullivan states that students can use the system knowing that a staff member will follow up on the report.
“Such reports will be treated seriously and investigated promptly and impartially, and without fear of reprisal or retaliation for making a report in good faith,” Sullivan said on the website.
The Impact of CIOs:
A student-run University resource for undocumented immigrants is DREAMers on Grounds, a CIO that is working to support the immigrant student community.
DREAMers on Grounds achieved CIO status in March 2016 after Student Council had previously rejected their request in a close vote with six yes votes and six abstentions. The decision was revised two weeks later, and DREAMers on Grounds is now a primary resource for DACA students at the University.
“DREAMers on Grounds is ... dedicated to supporting undocumented students and educating the broader community about the challenges they face,” Gist said. “In them, undocumented students will find a supportive group of peers and allies.”
DREAMers on Grounds has collaborated with other student groups such as University Democrats to raise awareness and also sponsor UndocuALLY training sessions, which educate the University community about legislation and about the immigrant student community on Grounds.
“We have been really impressed with what [DREAMers on Grounds] have done in just making sure students are aware of what’s going on and providing training so that people who do care but maybe don’t have a way to otherwise get involved can be still allies to that community,” Chambers said.
DREAMers on Grounds serves as a safe, dedicated place at the University for DACA recipients and undocumented students.
“DREAMers on Grounds have worked hard to make U.Va. a space where DREAMers can continue to pursue an education without fear of deportation,” Sanchez said. “Thankfully, on Grounds, administration and faculty have shown support for undocumented students by offering their allyship.”
Despite this expressed support, the issue of sanctuary campuses and undocumented immigration remains under the Trump presidency remains contentious, and Trump has not yet announced when he will make a decision on DACA.