Editor’s Note: The Mac Weekly has a policy of providing anonymity when speaking out may cause harm to a student’s mental or physical health, or to a student’s academic standing. Due to the sensitive circumstances surrounding DACA, the names of three students have been omitted to protect their privacy.
Macalester President Brian Rosenberg spoke out last week against President Donald Trump’s decision to end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, writing in a statement that the college will do “all in its power” to aid affected students, faculty and staff.
Rosenberg’s letter, sent via email to the Macalester community, did not mince words. “The upending of more than three-quarters of a million lives, absent a compelling reason,” he wrote, “is capricious and cruel.”
The Obama administration established DACA by executive order in June 2012. The program makes certain immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors eligible for deferred action from deportation, work permits and certain travel privileges.
To qualify, applicants must be enrolled in or have graduated from high school, or be serving in the military. They must have a virtually clean criminal record, with no felonies or serious misdemeanors.
An August survey from the Center for American Progress found that 91 percent of DACA recipients are currently employed. All recipients have been living continuously in the United States since June 2007. The program does not include a pathway to citizenship.
Regardless, Trump – who promised during his presidential campaign to repeal DACA “on day one” – announced through Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Tuesday that he would be ending the program in six months’ time.
Rosenberg described DACA recipients as “our students and our workers, our classmates and our teammates, our friends and our role models.”
If Trump follows through on his announcement and Congress does not pass a bill of its own to protect DACA recipients, all of those people could be deported by next spring, some to countries they have not lived in since they were toddlers.
Macalester has a significant number of undocumented and DACA students, in part because it began classifying undocumented students as domestic and not international students in 2013 following DACA’s enactment.
In his statement, Rosenberg directed concerned students to contact Sedric McClure, the school’s Assistant Dean for College Access, Retention, and Success, Program Coordinator for Student Success Cárol Mejía, or other members of the school’s faculty and staff.
The school has already made several commitments to its potentially impacted students. One is the provision of legal counsel. DACA students have been meeting with school lawyers since Trump’s election last November in anticipation of the program’s eventual repeal.
Another promise involves housing. “If you feel vulnerable in terms of being able to travel, to get back to places, there is some housing that will be provided,” McClure said.
More broadly, however, there is ambiguity and unrest – both concerning what Macalester can do and what the government will do.
“Students are very much concerned with the fact that they gave the U.S. government information – where your family lives, where you currently live – and there’s a lot [of] anxiety around how ICE will use that information,” McClure said. “There’s a feeling of ‘I’ve been somewhat betrayed.’”
“When Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, that was a pretty good sign of what was going to happen,” said Student A ’19. “My initial reaction was not so much about myself, but more worr[y] about my family.”
Student A, who was born in South Korea, came to the United States at the age of three with her family and has DACA status. She is one of a group of students, including Student B ’19 and Student C ’19, who meet regularly and works with Mejía to broadcast the needs of students whose status in the country is under threat.
The group first met with Rosenberg last winter, and has remained in contact with college officials since. “There are pathways to communicate with the administration whenever things change,” Student C said.
According to Mejía, that concern for family members is common. “First-generation immigrants think of college as a way to support their families financially,” she said, “because oftentimes DACA beneficiaries are the only ones with work permits.”
Should DACA be rescinded, its one-time beneficiaries would no longer be able to hold jobs. McClure said that his office along with the Career Development Center is exploring if any options would be available to DACA students to continue to support themselves financially, but there are no clear answers at this time.
“Right now, we’re building the plane we’re flying,” McClure said.
There is also the possibility of families being broken up. According to Student C, the college has promised help with that issue as well. “For people in mixed-status families, if their parents were to be deported, the college would help them get custody of their siblings,” she said.
The college has also begun to think about its potential steps should immigration officials arrive on campus at any point in the coming months.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Provost Karine Moe directed faculty to not disclose any information about students and direct to requests for such information to the Registrar’s office. “Macalester is private property, so I don’t think a raid could easily happen,” Mejía said. “I don’t think a raid could happen without a warrant, I think they [I.C.E.] would need to provide a warrant for a specific person.”
Macalester decided not to designate itself as a sanctuary campus after Trump’s election last November, concerned that doing so would threaten the college’s federal funding and draw unwanted attention from law enforcement.
Macalester Plymouth United Church, however, has declared itself a sanctuary – and Mejía said that the college has been in conversation with its Lead Minister Rev. Adam Blons “in the event that that space is needed.”
“If [a raid] were to happen, obviously we lose some of our valued community members,” McClure said, “but the sadder thing is that we have young people and people in this country who’ve been here most all their lives, and to send somebody back to some other place strikes me as inhumane.”
Student B’s story illustrates that point. “I came here at the age of six on a two-year visa,” she said. “My mother’s intention wasn’t for me to stay here longer than two years. But then I ended up staying for longer due to what was going on back in Uganda, and after that two-year visa expired I’d been accustomed to American life.”
“She was trying to take me back in eighth grade, and I was like ‘absolutely not, all my friends are here, and there’s no way I’m leaving.’ I didn’t find out that I was undocumented until my freshman or sophomore year of high school.”
McClure is committed to protecting the right of DACA recipients to remain in the U.S.
“We know a lot about people who receive DACA, and these are people who are contributing to our society,” McClure said. “That’s the legacy of our country. We are a nation of immigrants. We would be losing our community members. It turns my stomach.”
“America is not a person,” he continued. “It’s ideals. It’s the way we came up. And these people are as American as anyone else.”