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Students, Staff Concerned over Fate of DACA

A crowd looks on as students speak at a rally for immigrant rights in September in front of Memorial Church.
A crowd looks on as students speak at a rally for immigrant rights in September in front of Memorial Church. By Krystal K. Phu
By Ruth A. Hailu and Olivia C. Scott, Crimson Staff Writers

The eyes of Harvard’s undocumented students are turned to Washington as lawmakers wrangle over a deal to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The Trump administration announced in September it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—an Obama-era program that protected these “dreamers”—and set a March deadline for lawmakers to act before those protections expire. DACA protected approximately 790,000 youth, including many of the College’s 65 undocumented students.

Members of Congress from both parties have been in talks the past few weeks to work out a solution by Jan. 19, the deadline for a federal funding bill. Meanwhile, federal judge William H. Alsup, a graduate of the Law School, ruled on Tuesday that the Trump administration must allow previous DACA recipients to renew their status. On Saturday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced they would continue to accept renewal applications for DACA recipients.

The turmoil has left Harvard’s DACA recipients—and the advisers and administrators charged with counseling them—unsure how long their protections will last and puzzling over what course of action to take next.

Katie M. Derzon, the College’s fellow for undocumented students, said the fate of DACA is still not certain.

“As far as what the DACA ruling might mean, we are not yet sure, as it just happened,” Derzon wrote in an email Thursday.

Students also described how the unpredictability of Congress’s plans to address DACA has fueled their concerns about planning for the future.

“I’m very fearful of my future,” said Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, a co-director of Act on A Dream, a student organization advocating for undocumented students.

“I am a junior currently, and because I don’t know if I’ll have the permission to work, planning my future is kind of scattered everywhere,” Tanaka said. “So I think I face challenges very different than my Harvard peers.”

Amid the uncertainty, Act on a Dream members are planning for a life without DACA.

“We’ve been doing what we needed to do before DACA was a thing, and if it’s not going to be a thing anymore, then we’re going to figure out ways to make it work because that’s what we do,” Act on a Dream advocacy co-chair Bruno O. V. McCubbin ’19 said.

Jason Corral, the staff attorney at the Harvard Immigration Refugee and Clinical Program, said he is encouraging undocumented students to set up appointments with the clinic.

“We've been telling students to set up consultations with us so that we can assess whether they might be eligible for any potential relief beyond DACA,” Corral said. “We have open office hours where people can just drop in or set up an appointment during the week. We've been doing that over the course of the last year.”

The clinic has also set up a website with a frequently asked questions section that it updates as developments in Washington play out.

“We urge people to check that out and just stay in communication so we can help come up with a conclusion or a solution,” Corral said.

Both Harvard administrators and Act on a Dream members are pushing for more permanent immigration policy solutions.

University President Drew G. Faust, who has lobbied lawmakers to protect undocumented students for years, condemned Trump’s decision to end DACA as “cruel.” In December, Faust joined an alliance of more than two dozen other university presidents to call on Congress to pass legislation that would protect undocumented students.

Since the initial announcement of DACA’s termination in September, Act on a Dream members have been working on several initiatives intended to advocate for Harvard’s undocumented students.

“We’ve hosted and co-hosted various DACA phone calls to advocate for immigrant rights in various forms, and we are hosting a CAIR Conference, which stands for Collegiate Alliance for Immigration Reform,” Tanaka said.

The conference is set to take place at the end of February and will bring together immigrant rights organizations from various national college campuses to share strategies on how to best advocate for immigration reform, according to the Act on a Dream website.

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at

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