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Beyond the News

DACA phase-out encourages action by college administrators

Higher ed institutions work to better inform their communities while supporting undocumented students

The Trump administration’s plan to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy by not accepting new applicants is another shift in immigration laws that leaves many students unsure of their status on and off campus.

This uncertainty has colleges and universities refining approaches, messages and resources to support undocumented students.

Wellness check

Some institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, are forming task forces to assess the needs of a population often hesitant to identify itself, says Tanya Cabrera, associate director for equity and inclusion.

Under the provost’s office, staff from international studies and student affairs are collaborating with mental health experts and social workers to create pertinent resources.

“Students are separated from parents, many are in financially precarious positions,” says Cabrera. “We have to be mindful that these situations can and do cause stress, depression and anxiety.”

Social workers perform wellness reviews for undocumented students and the university staffs a 24/7 suicide helpline.

Sister campuses in Urbana-Champaign and Springfield are creating similar resources.

Solution to SUCCEED  the Dream Act?

The Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act (S. 1852) was introduced in September 2017.

The bill would allow young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and who have lived here for five years or more to earn permanent legal status if they pursue postsecondary education, enlist in the military or are gainfully employed, among other requirements.

Continuous support

Officials from Simpson College in Iowa and the University of California System also have stepped up support for undocumented students, albeit in different ways.

University of California President Janet Napolitano and all 10 system chancellors sent a letter encouraging students to apply to DACA before the final October 5, 2017, deadline, says system spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez.

The letter also assured students of the continuance of services for Dreamers, such as:

  • in-state tuition
  • institutional and state financial aid, such as loans through the DREAM loan program
  • legal services
  • campus-based student service centers

Campus police are instructed not to contact, detain, question or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status, or to enter agreements to undertake joint efforts to make arrests for federal immigration law violations.

Simpson President Jay Simmons sent a message to the campus community explaining the institution didn’t have an official list of DACA participants, and would do its best to keep students’ information confidential, says Heidi Levine, vice president for student development and planning.

Simmons also requested that any questions concerning immigration issues be sent directly to his office.

While Simpson has a variety of initiatives in place to assist its undocumented population (such as providing students with pro-bono legal counsel), the college stopped short of declaring itself a “sanctuary campus,” a moniker being adopted by higher ed institutions across the U.S.

“From a legal perspective, that stance is meaningless,” says Levine. “Declaring a sanctuary campus would only supply a false sense of security to our community.”

To inspire real change, Simpson leaders are encouraging students to write to members of Congress to finalize and pass the bipartisan Dream Act, an immigration reform first introduced in 2001.

DACA was intended to act as a bandage in this stalled process, not as a way to solve it, says Leigh Cole, director with Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew, a New York law firm specializing in education.

“This phase-out will allow the government to see the impact of DACA’s absence, and hopefully will motivate action,” says Cole. “Whether intentionally or not, it will ramp up pressure to finally get something like the Dream Act passed.”

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