Undocumented Students Cautiously Praise Executive Stay on Deportations

Undocumented students at Harvard and colleges across the U.S. will not have to worry about immediate deportation due to an executive order issued by the Obama administration in August.

The administration will review approximately 300,000 deportation cases, putting some to rest if the immigrants involved are deemed “non-threatening.” Many deportation proceedings for immigrant students are expected to be suspended indefinitely.

“I’m very happy about this decision, but it doesn’t affect or change anything at all,” said an undocumented Divinity School student who also attended the College. He asked to remain anonymous to avoid legal ramifications for his family.

“In a way I feel more secure, not safe, but more secure,” the student said. “I think safety comes out of a sense of danger, but I’ve never felt in danger in the United States. Security comes out a sense of permanence, a grounding in the United States.”

An undocumented undergraduate who asked that his name not be used to protect his identity said he had mixed feelings about the decision.

“This is good because I don’t think [undocumented] people should be deported,” he said. “Ultimately the state would end up losing money and human capital, but from an ethical point, some people should be [deported], maybe I should turn myself in.”

But Eric Balderas ’13—an undocumented student who was detained in June 2010 but given a three-year suspension of his deportation hearing—was doubtful that the new order will have lasting effects.

“I’m very skeptical about it because of all the politics behind it,” Balderas said. “Obama said before that there was nothing in his executive power he could do to circumvent Congress on this issue, so I’m not too sure about it. I don’t feel any more secure because of it. There have been some cases that have been dropped, but I need to see more dropped to make sure that this isn’t a political ploy.”

Nicolas E. Jofre ’13—head of Act on a Dream, a student organization that advocates for immigration reform—said this recent decision will come as a relief to some undocumented students.

“One of the great things about this executive decision is that because pending cases of students will be deemed low priority, Harvard students will not have to worry about having to permanently leave the country during their four years here,” Jofre said.

Harvard previously supported legislation resolving the status issues of undocumented students. University President Drew G. Faust was a vocal supporter of the unsuccessful Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act when it came up for vote in Congress last winter.

“We are hopeful that this federal policy change will allow hardworking students at Harvard and other universities to focus on their studies,” Christine Heenan, the vice president for public affairs and communications, wrote in an email. “We remain committed to enactment of the DREAM Act to resolve the status issues for many students and other young people interested in serving the country through military service.”

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

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