Harvard Must Remain Committed to Undocumented Students

The University must take measures to support undocumented students in response to the end of DACA

On Tuesday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an initiative created by former president Barack Obama in a 2012 executive order. It granted undocumented youth, under certain conditions, protection from deportation and the ability to apply for work permits. University President Drew G. Faust, in an email to Harvard affiliates, called the decision an implementation of a “cruel policy [that] recognizes neither justice nor mercy.”

President Faust’s support for undocumented students—both through years of lobbying in Washington, D.C., and her recent letter to President Trump in support of DACA—is important and worth commending. But since the future of students who have previously benefited from DACA is now uncertain, President Faust and the University must ramp up their efforts to support these students and other undocumented students who did not qualify.

First, stable employment made possible by DACA curbed the exploitation of a portion of undocumented workers and gave undocumented college students a way of using their degrees after graduation. If their ability to work is taken away after DACA expires in March, Harvard must ensure that undocumented students are supported financially. In tandem with the Financial Aid Office and the Office for International Education, the College must ensure that undocumented students have the financial security that will allow them to take advantage of the educational experience that Harvard promises, even if they lose their work permits and are not able to provide these funds for themselves.

Second, the central tenet of DACA was deferred action from deportation. Once this ends, the fear of deportation that pains immigrant communities nationwide will be palpable for undocumented students on campus. Mental health cases relating to general anxieties about citizenship status will likely skyrocket, so it is also imperative that Harvard hire more mental health specialists who are specifically trained to work with undocumented communities.

Currently, there is only one mental health counselor at Counseling and Mental Health Services who was involved with the support group for undocumented students last semester. Hiring new counselors whose area of expertise is undocumented communities will be a critical step in addressing the the inevitable mental health issues that will accompany a repeal of DACA.

Additionally, the University will have to increase the legal support available to undocumented students. Since Trump’s election, lawyers at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic have been working to offer free legal advice to undocumented Harvard students. Unfortunately, only one lawyer has been put in place for undocumented and DACAmented students, but a single person is not sufficient. In many cases, students fear for the safety of their families as well as their own, affecting them just as much as a fear of their own deportation. Hiring more lawyers and administrations at the clinic would enable it to keep up with increased demand.

In these times, it would be easy hold up students who benefit from DACA as the models or exceptions for being undocumented. That would be a mistake. Instead, we must remember that this is about the undocumented community as a whole and that these DACA students would be nothing without the parents that still continue to be criminalized and blamed for bringing them to the United States.

All DACA recipients should be here, but no undocumented individuals should be deported. As we have said before, deportation is a human rights issue, and no individual should be subjected to the inhumane conditions deportation proceedings foster. Any undocumented Harvard affiliate, including faculty, administrators, and staff, should benefit from the services that the University should provide.

Finally, President Faust must continue in her efforts to lobby in Washington, D.C. Throughout her tenure as President, she has supported both the DREAM Act and DACA. Faust must double-down on her efforts to publicly support legislation that would help undocumented students, and Harvard’s lobbying offices in D.C. should prioritize pushing Congress to work on new immigration reform measures. When new bills designed to support undocumented students are introduced, the president of the University must be vocal about backing it.

Given the decades long debate about immigration reform, it is clear that these issues will not be solved or finalized before Drew Faust’s term ends. This means that the presidential search committee must ensure that their candidates will preserve Faust’s commitment to undocumented students, both on campus and in Washington, D.C. By selecting an individual who will be a staunch advocate for undocumented students, the search committee can ensure that support for these Harvard affiliates and their families continues to improve.

If Harvard wants to be an institution where undocumented students can thrive, its leaders must be supportive, both vocally and in their actions. We ask that the administration continue to make it clear that undocumented students are welcome here, including as the Admissions Office conducts outreach. These students are a critical part of this nation’s fabric, and Harvard has a responsibility to continue their work in making that clear—to those on campus, to those across the nation, and to those with the power to effect change.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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