President Barack Obama’s executive decision Friday to limit the deportation of undocumented immigrants has been met with a mixture of joy and scrutiny from the Harvard community.
Under the provisions of the order, immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, have lived in the United States for at least five years, and are currently attending school, have graduated high school, or have served in the military will no longer be deported, unless they are also over the age of thirty or have criminal records. The order will affect about 800,000 people.
“This announcement is life changing for the students at Harvard and elsewhere who came to the United States as young children and have studied and worked in the years since with the goal of contributing to their communities and to our national life,” University President Drew G. Faust wrote in an email.
Many observers noted the executive order’s similarity to the DREAM Act, a failed bill that would have provided undocumented youth with a six-year-long path to citizenship after completing two years of coursework for a higher education degree or two years of military service. Faust was a strong backer of the Act.
“Like most other advocates of the DREAM Act, I was super happy to hear that the executive order had finally been announced,” said Nicolas E. Jofre ’13, former co-director of Harvard College Act on a Dream, a student group devoted to immigrant issues. “It’s a relief that’s been needed for a very long time.”
Undocumented Harvard students expressed enthusiasm for the new policy.
“I think it’s such a great move, especially for high schoolers who are probably in an uncertain position,” said Eric Balderas ’13, who drew public attention when he faced and ultimately avoided deportation in 2010.
An undocumented Harvard Divinity School student who requested anonymity said that the bill would have given him a sense of security during his undergraduate years.
“College was a mixture of really great fun and a huge learning experience, but it was very much marked by my legal status,” he said. “There were a lot of things I couldn’t do and didn’t have access to because of this attribute.”
Other students disapproved of the executive order. Harvard Republican Club President Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 said in an email that he thinks the order represents an abuse of power.
“After eight years of liberal scrutiny of the imperial presidency under Bush, I would expect more from Democrats who now seem to think that the President can do whatever he wants as long as they like it,” Bekebrede wrote. “A slow moving Congress is not reason enough to disregard the Constitution.”
Immigration activists, however, called for the president to do more, not less. The order is only a step toward comprehensive immigration reform, proponents said, as it falls short of the policies proposed by the DREAM Act.
“We must continue to work for a more permanent legislative solution that embraces and enlists the talent and aspirations of these extraordinary young people, but this executive action is a most welcome step,” Faust wrote.
Though Balderas applauded the order, he took issue with the limited scope of undocumented immigrants to whom it applies.
“We shouldn’t forget about our parents and everyone else who stands to benefit from comprehensive immigration reform,” Balderas said. “I think all of these are steps to that. My ultimate hope is to deal with it in its entirety—not only deal with the youth, but with our parents, who got us here.”
—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.