Hundreds of college presidents, including more than a dozen in Washington and Idaho, are publicly urging President-elect Donald Trump not to eliminate a federal program that protects nearly 750,000 undocumented immigrants.
President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by executive order in 2012. It grants work authorization and academic opportunities to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have little connection to their countries of origin. Those immigrants are commonly called “Dreamers.”
Trump has vowed to eliminate that program and other “illegal executive amnesties,” a stance his transition team reiterated to the Washington Post last month. Now a growing number of college and university leaders are voicing support for the DACA program in open letters being circulated online.
“DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community,” reads one letter on Pomona College’s website. “They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies.”
The letter continues: “To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity.”
As of Thursday afternoon, 441 college and university leaders had signed the letter, which was organized by Pomona College President David Oxtoby.
Signers from Washington include WSU President Kirk Schulz and UW President Ana Mari Cauce, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba when she was 3.
A spokeswoman for Whitworth University said administrators will give “strong consideration” to adding a signature. Eastern Washington University hasn’t signed the letter but recently issued statements of support for its undocumented students.
Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh added his name to a different letter published by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. It states that “our communities are immeasurably enriched by the presence, intelligence and committed contributions of undocumented students.”
The University of Idaho and Boise State University are members of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which published yet another letter signed by APLU President Peter McPherson.
“As a matter of fairness, I urge that the DACA program continue,” McPherson wrote. “These young people were brought here as children by others. For many of them, America is the only home they can remember.”
Critics call DACA an example of executive overreach, suggesting the program automatically provides amnesty or a pathway to citizenship, although it does neither. Only Congress can change the requirements for citizenship.
Some critics also suggest the program allows dangerous criminals to remain in the United States. But the program is selective. Among other requirements, Dreamers must have arrived in the country as children, be in high school or have a diploma, or be a U.S. military veteran. They can’t have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor.
Many undocumented students fear the DACA database – which contains personal information they willingly provided during the application process – will make them easy targets for deportation under Trump’s administration. Some have called that a form of entrapment.
“Those who applied for DACA status came forward and in good faith provided their information to the U.S. government based on a promise that they would be protected,” wrote McPherson, the APLU president.
A handful of cities and colleges have declared themselves “sanctuaries” in the weeks since the election, pledging not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Schools including WSU and EWU say they won’t give student information to federal authorities unless required by law or subpoena, and that their campus police departments never ask about a person’s immigration status.
“America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community,” the Pomona College letter reads. “They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”