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President Donald Trump’s decision last week to extend Obama-era protections for undocumented students was greeted with relief from some Harvard students even as they reaffirmed a need for immigration reform.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, rolled out in 2012, enables undocumented students to obtain work permits while avoiding the prospect of deportation. Trump announced last Thursday that he would not eliminate the program, but White House officials added Friday that his administration may follow through on anti-immigration campaign pledges in the future.
For Jin Park ’18, an undocumented student, the announcement was “welcomed news.” After the presidential election in November 2016, Park assumed that DACA would be gone, along with his post-graduation work prospects and health insurance. “But now that I can renew DACA, it’s a different context,” he said.
Enrique Ramirez ’17, an undocumented student and previous board member of student activist group Act on a Dream, said he was not surprised by the announcement. “His position’s always been a friendly one towards Dreamers, while his stance against illegal immigrants in general was a lot more harsh,” he said.
Ramirez said his parents were happy because they were concerned for Ramirez and his siblings’ safety.
DACA, he said, has been a “huge help” in allowing him to pursue opportunities that he otherwise could not have. Under its protection, Ramirez has held up to four jobs, studied abroad, applied to summer internships, and obtained a driver’s license. He said he appreciated being able to drive for his parents and reduce the risk of their being pulled over and deported.
Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, an undocumented student and co-director of Act on a Dream, said his “huge sigh of relief” upon waking up to the news was soon engulfed by a frustration regarding the broader landscape of 11 million undocumented immigrants. DACA protects approximately 800,000 people within that 11 million.
Park likewise said he is skeptical of politicians and how they throw immigration issues around as what he calls “political football.”
“My trust in Trump, there is none. You can’t be confident in someone who, for nine months, has promised to upend your life and put you back somewhere you don’t remember,” Park said.
“Donald Trump has shifted the conversation on immigration so far to the right that even a small advance seems like a monumental achievement, when in reality, it’s not,” Park added. “We need to focus on the core issue, which is comprehensive immigration reform.”
The news of DACA’s continuation came with the official termination of another program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.
DAPA, an Obama administration proposal that had yet to go into effect, might have protected the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents from deportation.
Park said that while he was happy that “the administration is recognizing the value of people like me,” he is disappointed that the sentiment “doesn’t translate to parents of deferred action recipients and undocumented immigrants in general.”
“I feel like a big weight has been lifted, but at the same time, my parents matter too,” he said.
Ramirez said his family was not hopeful for DAPA to be enacted. “No one was planning for DAPA to come back, especially under Trump,” he said.
Tanaka said Act on a Dream’s work is far from finished: “This is just temporary relief and one step in a long journey,” he said. He said the group hopes to advocate for better conditions and rights for all undocumented citizens—protected or unprotected.
“Being DACA-protected has definitely made me realize the amount of privilege I have within the undocumented community and how much capacity I was granted in order to help those without these protections,” Tanaka said.
—Staff writer Sarah Wu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sarah_wu_.
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