Amid turmoil in Washington over immigration reform, Harvard administrators are doing “everything we can possibly think of” to push for legislation securing legal protections for undocumented students and staff, University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview earlier this month.
“We are committed to our undocumented students and their security and safety and their ability to continue with their programs of study and likewise, the TPS individuals—many of whom are employees—have for the most part been in the United States for a very long time,” Faust said.
Faust said earlier this month the University planned to communicate with the Massachusetts congressional delegation about the importance of passing definitive legislation on immigration. She pointed to an open letter penned by four Harvard Medical School students protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an Obama era program that provides protections for undocumented youth—last month as a piece of “data and information” that the University can give to the delegation.
The letter was “good ammunition for our delegation to use as examples of kinds of positive contributions that undocumented individuals are making,” she said.
Faust has been an outspoken advocate for undocumented students and immigrants at Harvard and in higher education broadly. She has signed letters, appeared on national television, and met with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to voice her support for immigration reform.
Her activism around Temporary Protected Status—a legal designation given to individuals from certain countries who have fled armed conflict or natural disasters—is more recent. After the Trump administration rescinded protections for individuals from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan in recent months, 50 University affiliates rallied last month to petition Faust to take more decisive action on the issue. TPS-holding workers at Harvard submitted a letter to Faust, writing that the change in federal policy could have ramifications for dozens of University employees.
The following day, Faust penned a letter to House and Senate leadership, urging lawmakers pass legislation protecting TPS-holders.
In the interview, Faust also said she has provided advice to Senate Minority Whip Richard “Dick” J. Durbin that he has “used in Senate speeches” on immigration legislation.
“I also have worked closely for many years now with Senator Dick Durbin, asking him what he would advise in terms of political strategy on the Hill,” Faust said.
Durbin visited campus in January to discuss immigration reform at the Institute of Politics, where around 100 University affiliates confronted him in protest. Protesters said they rallied against what they called Senate Democrats’ eagerness to reopen the government without a deal on immigration after a three-day shutdown last month. Durbin was one of the 33 Democrats who voted to end the shutdown.
In addition to immigration legislation, Faust has also raised concerns about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, specifically its potential impacts on the affordability of higher education.
“There are a lot of elements in the act right now that are concerning, elements that have to do with student financial aid, Federal Work Study, a number of measures that I think would have a negative impact on higher education and student affordability so we are very concerned about those,” Faust said.
The Higher Education Act, originally passed in 1965, authorizes the federal student financial aid program, and includes provisions for programs such as Pell Grants, the Federal Work Study Program, and loan repayment plans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
Republican House lawmakers’ proposed overhaul, called the PROSPER Act, would restructure loan repayment plans and eliminate Federal Work Study and public service loan forgiveness for graduate and professional students, among other changes. The legislation passed a House committee 23-17 in December but has yet to move to the full House or Senate for a vote.
In a Faculty meeting earlier this month, Faust expressed her concerns about the legislation as it currently stands, but said many of the aforementioned provisions may face challenges in the Senate.
“There’s a lot of stuff being put into this bill that may or may not survive, so we’d like to see how it unfolds,” Faust said in an interview.
Faust said she has had conversations over the years with Senator Lamar Alexander about earlier versions of proposals to reauthorize the Act. Alexander, who is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he hopes to have a Senate version of the current reauthorization “by early spring.”
Alexander has expressed a desire to pass bipartisan legislation through an approach that would differ from that of House Republicans, who passed their version of the bill despite dissent from Democrats, who complained of being shut out of the process. Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who is also on the committee, has warned of streamlining loans and grants without preserving the total amount of aid.
Faust said earlier this month, though, that her advocacy efforts have recently focused more on the Republican tax overhaul, which instituted an“unprecedented” endowment tax in December. Faust said in early February that after that legislation became law, she has focused on its impact on the University’s $37.1 billion endowment.
“I’ve been so focused on the tax bill that I really haven’t done much so far on the Higher Education bill at this iteration,” she said.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.