As the presidential race enters the final, crucial weeks before Election Day, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have sparred over immigration reform—an issue that Harvard has spent thousands championing in Washington.
For Harvard, the issue of undocumented immigration hit close to home in 2010 when Eric Balderas ’13 was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Antonio.
Classmates formed a Facebook group rallying behind Balderas, who illegally immigrated from Mexico to the United States when he was four.
“Eric is a model stellar student and citizen at Harvard University,” the page, titled “Keep Eric Home,” stated. “His deportation will deprive all of us of a potential citizen whose courage, commitment, and sincere desire to help others through science can only make our country a better place.”
Upper-level administrators and leaders on Capitol Hill also spoke out in support of Balderas, who was ultimately permitted to remain in the country.
Though the Balderas incident is now years in the past, immigration reform remains an important issue for many on campus. Harvard has historically accepted more undocumented students than other leading universities—approximately five to eight every year—according to Nicolas E. Jofre ’13, a student activist and former president of Harvard’s Act on a Dream, an undergraduate group that advocates for immigration reform.
Who wins on November 6 could affect not only the fate of thousands of immigrants across the country, but also the status of undocumented students currently studying at Harvard.
Both Obama and Romney have advocated for immigration reform. Both, however, offer significantly different philosophies and visions for the next four years.
A DREAM, AND DEPORTATIONS, DEFERRED
Since his campaign days in 2008, Obama has endorsed immigration reform that would create a road to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals.
“We need immigration reform that will secure our borders, and punish employers who exploit immigrant labor; reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens,” Obama said.
In the early years of his tenure, Obama strongly supported the DREAM Act—the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, formally, which offered a six-year-long path toward U.S. citizenship for some immigrants.
The act found sympathy at higher education institutions across the nation. University President Drew G. Faust, along with several other university presidents, vigorously lobbied Capitol Hill for the passage of the DREAM Act, writing letters and making public statements in favor of the legislation. Students, including Balderas, also voiced their support, some taking part in a rally at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston.
Despite these efforts, the DREAM Act was killed in the Senate in late 2010. Had it been passed into law, the legislation would have granted citizenship to about 40 undocumented students currently studying at Harvard, according to Anahi D. Mendoza Pacheco ’15, current co-chair of Act on a Dream.