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HLS Panel Discusses DACA Report Results

The Wasserstein Campus Center at Harvard Law School.
The Wasserstein Campus Center at Harvard Law School. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Jasper G. Goodman and Brammy Rajakumar, Contributing Writers

A panel of immigration experts discussed the impacts of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals policy and shared concern about its future at a Harvard Law School panel Thursday night.

The event, called “What’s Next for DACA?,” highlighted the findings of the National UnDACAmented Research Project — a report exploring the impact of DACA on undocumented immigrant families.

DACA, a policy implemented under President Barack Obama that allows children brought to the United States as children to live and work in the country, was ended by the Trump administration in Sept. 2017. The president’s decision brought several legal challenges, and the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on the end of the program Tuesday.

Roberto G. Gonzales, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the principal investigator of the National UnDACAmented Research Project, said that DACA is “inarguably is the most successful policy of immigrant integration we’ve seen in the last three decades.”

Gonzales opened the event with a summary of the findings from his research, in which he surveyed more than 2,700 undocumented young adults and performed 500 in-depth interviews after the institution of DACA.

“DACA has provided hundreds of thousands of young people and their families opportunities to experience social mobility in ways that they had not,” Gonzales said.

After presenting his findings, Gonzales sat on a panel that included Rhodes Scholar and DACA recipient Jin K. Park ’18-’19, Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office lawyer Jonathan B. Miller, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Eva Millona, and Welcome Project Executive Director Ben Echavarría.

During the panel discussion, Park described the uncertainty that DACA recipients face.

“Those are seemingly questions that are very narrow in some ways, in scope, but have immense impact on how I live my life and how I think about the future,” Park said, referring to the arguments that the Supreme Court will hear next week. “The way that I’m thinking about it is to just do what I’ve done — it’s the only thing that I really know how to do — which is to just take things one day at a time and to kind of just hope.”

Park, who was the first-ever DACA recipient to receive a Rhodes Scholarship, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in March. At the panel discussion, he spoke about the challenges that immigrants face in the U.S.

“We ask immigrants all the time, what are you going to do for us? We don’t ask those questions to people who are U.S. citizens,” he said.

Miller, who heads the Office of the Attorney General’s Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau, described the current legal challenges facing DACA. Citing the lawsuit that Massachusetts and multiple other states filed in New York after the Trump administration’s announcement of DACA’s termination, Miller said he appreciated the timeliness of the event and Gonzales’s report.

“I think this was an incredibly inspiring event,” he said. “The report does an amazing job of explaining the impact of the DACA program for the recipients and their families, and it shows how work authorization [and a] social security number are incredibly powerful tools for economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and pathways for greater participation in civic society.”

“These stories are just so incredibly powerful and moving,” he added.

Echevarría said after the event, that he enjoyed his experience as a panelist.

“I thought it was important to be part of a conversation on, really, you know, a good portion of our youth who are affected by what’s about to happen,” he said. “I was excited to be able to speak about that.”

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