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UPDATED: September 5, 2017 at 10:58 p.m.
President Donald Trump ended an Obama-era program that protects undocumented youth Tuesday, drawing the swift condemnation of several Harvard administrators.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly announced President Donald Trump’s much-awaited decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at a morning press conference at the Justice Department. Tuesday marked a deadline 10 states imposed on the Trump administration to end DACA, or else face a legal challenge, and Trump asked Congress to take legislative action before the program expires in March 2018.
“This cruel policy recognizes neither justice nor mercy,” Faust wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates of the decision. “In the months to come, we will make every effort to have our voice heard, in the halls of Congress and elsewhere, about the need for the protections of DACA to continue.”
The program, put in place by former President Barack Obama via executive order in 2012, provides work authorizations and protected status to undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. at a young age. It allows around 790,000 youth to work and go to school without fear of deportation, including several dozen Harvard students.
In recent weeks, as the Tuesday deadline loomed, immigrant rights advocates, hundreds of U.S. CEOs, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have implored Trump to preserve the program. University President Drew G. Faust—a vocal advocate for undocumented students—sent a letter to Trump defending DACA last week.
Approximately 65 undocumented students attend Harvard, according to Katie M. Derzon, the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s fellow for undocumented students. Since Trump’s election, the University has ramped up resources for undocumented students—hiring Derzon and a full-time attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at the Law School, bringing immigration law experts to campus to provide legal consultations, and circulating memos with guidance for undocumented students, among other measures.
With an announcement nearing, resident deans sent messages over House lists on Monday evening outlining these resources and expressing support for undocumented students.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana decried Trump’s move in an email to undergraduates Tuesday afternoon. “In ending this program, this nation has taken a step backwards,” he wrote. “Today, the futures of these young people—including those Harvard College students who benefit from the DACA program—are in jeopardy.”
Addressing those “now grappling with uncertainty” after Trump’s announcement, Khurana wrote, “know this: Harvard College supports you.”
In her statement Tuesday, Faust also pointed to a 24-hour hotline for undocumented Harvard affiliates and a weekly support group offered by Harvard University Health Services’ Counseling and Mental Health Services.
The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic held an information session Tuesday afternoon to answer questions on the implications of the policy change. Derzon wrote in an email that she is encouraging all undocumented students to reach out to HIRC for a consultation.
According to guidelines for “winding down the program” issued by the Department of Homeland Security Tuesday, current DACA documents will remain valid until their expiration dates. The department will continue to process pending applications, as well as applications for renewals it receives before Oct. 5. It won’t, however, process first-time DACA applications.
If a student’s DACA status expires—and they are no longer legally permitted to remain in the country—deportation won’t happen immediately, according to Jason Corral, the designated attorney for undocumented students in the law clinic. Students would first have to be placed in formal removal proceedings before facing deportation.
Earlier this year, Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. Riley sent a message to University affiliates pledging that his officers would not inquire about immigration statuses or help with federal immigration enforcement.
But Harvard’s ability to shield its undocumented population does have a limit. Federal authorities are permitted to enter the campus with a valid warrant.
Some immigration rights advocates have raised concerns that by handing over personal details to receive DACA status, DACA recipients have unwittingly given the federal government the information it needs to go after them once the program is terminated.
“I think it is reasonable to be concerned about that,” Law School professor Gerald L. Neuman said. “I think there are legal arguments about whether that can be done or not, and there may be lawsuits about whether the government can do this if it tries.”
Corral said he interpreted the guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security to mean that information submitted by DACA applications won’t be shared with immigration enforcement authorities for deportation purposes—but, he wrote, “it is really unclear on that point.”
Trump’s decision effectively places the fate of undocumented youth in the United States in the hands of Congress. Faust told Harvard affiliates that she wrote to leaders in both the Senate and the House of Representatives Tuesday, urging them to pass either the DREAM Act or the BRIDGE Act—two pieces of legislation that would codify protections for DACA-eligible people.
“Harvard has long advocated in Washington, DC, for these vulnerable students, and we will continue to work tirelessly at the federal level to advance our arguments,” Faust wrote to affiliates.
If Congress takes action, Neuman said “DREAMers” could potentially find themselves in a more secure position six months from now than they were under DACA. “The next question after today is going to be, will Congress finally pass a law that gives stable legal status on a statutory basis for the Dreamers?”
But, he added, “the odds of good things coming out of Congress right now are difficult to predict.”
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