As President Donald Trump considers ending a program that allows some undocumented students to legally live in the United States, University President Drew G. Faust implored him in a letter Monday to preserve it.
Established by former President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA provides temporary protections to qualifying undocumented youth. It enables hundreds of thousands of young people across the country to work and study without fear of deportation—including around 65 at Harvard this year, according to Katie M. Derzon, the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s fellow for undocumented students.
“I write to express my deep concern about reports that the Administration is considering whether to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to urge you to continue it as it currently exists,” Faust wrote. “I also urge your Administration to vigorously defend DACA in the federal courts should its validity come under challenge.”
But DACA stands on shaky ground under Trump, who pledged to crack down on illegal immigration during his campaign. The Trump administration extended the program in June, to the relief of Harvard’s undocumented students. In recent days, however, reports have indicated that Trump is once again mulling DACA’s future, under pressure from 10 states that have threatened to sue the federal government if it doesn’t put a stop to the program by Sept. 5. Options on the table include doing away with DACA entirely or putting in place a watered-down version of the program, according to a CNN report.
Amid the uncertainty, Faust—a longtime advocate for undocumented students—emphasized the positive contributions undocumented students make to American universities in her letter Monday.
“We, as a nation, have already made an investment in these young people, and we will benefit far more by permitting these students to put their skills to their highest use rather than by repealing DACA and forcing them to return to the shadows of our society,” she wrote.
This letter is the second Faust has sent to Trump about DACA; she and more than 100 college and university presidents co-signed a statement in support of the program to Trump last November.
Since the election, the University has augmented resources and defenses for undocumented students. Harvard hired an attorney in its Immigration and Refugee Law Clinic to provide legal counsel, convened immigration law experts at campus seminars, and launched a website listing resources for undocumented students, among other measures. The Harvard University Police Department also sent a letter to students in November indicating it would not inquire about affiliates’ immigration status or help enforce federal immigration laws.
The instability of the program since Trump’s election has generated anxiety among Harvard’s undocumented population, according to Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, an undocumented student who co-directs the advocacy group Act on a Dream.
“All this uncertainty about the future keeps me and my friends in the community from being able to sort of live a normal student lifestyle,” he said.
Paulo J. Pinto ’18, a DACA recipient, said losing the legal protections DACA provides will jeopardize the ability of undocumented students to work on campus and obtain post-graduate jobs.
“It will be demoralizing for a lot of people who have basically grown up with DACA,” he said. “I think over the past four or so years, there’s been a sense of slight relief, and you kind of take a lot of things for granted, like being able to work on campus without going through a lot of loopholes to get paid.”
Tanaka praised administrators for their “proactive” efforts—including Faust’s letter to Trump—but criticized Faust’s reluctance to call Harvard a sanctuary campus.
Faust declined to do so in December, citing concerns that labeling Harvard a sanctuary would draw unwanted attention from federal authorities and endanger University’s undocumented population.
Both Tanaka and Pinto said they hope that if Trump does put a halt to the DACA program, Faust and other administrators will ramp up protections for undocumented students.
“The students are looking to the administration for support,” Tanaka said.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.