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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Protect students from immigration politics

Political cynicism is threatening the hopes and dreams of college students whose parents brought them to this country illegally.

Go back home?

“I have nothing waiting for me in Mexico,” said Eastern Washington University student Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez at a recent campus rally. She was 2 years old when she was brought to the United States.

Higher education leaders nationwide are hoping to shield students like her from a senseless fate. She is among about 200 undocumented immigrant students at EWU. There are about 750,000 people nationwide under the protection of a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing DACA, which allowed illegal immigrant children who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive an exemption from deportation and a temporary work permit. A bill with a similar aim has languished in Congress for 15 years – a routine fate for any federal immigration reform legislation.

To congressional leaders, it’s been a larger priority to preserve illegal immigration as a political issue than to produce comprehensive solutions. Neither President Bush nor President Obama was able to get Congress to act.

President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to rescind Obama’s executive order, calling it an example of presidential overreach. He has not urged Congress to pass a DACA bill. He should.

DACA students are also known as “Dreamers,” based on the DREAM Act that was introduced in 2001. The bill recognized that children who grew up in the United States are not to blame for being here. Some have known no other country. They speak English (often better than their parents). They’ve absorbed American culture, and want a shot at the American dream.

The best way to achieve that is through education.

While the congressional bill languished, Washington state got busy. In 2003, the Legislature passed a bill making such children eligible for in-state tuition. In 2014, legislators, in a bipartisan fashion, took the next logical step and passed the REAL Hope Act, which increased State Need Grant funding and allowed Dreamers to apply.

But angry populism has overtaken reason on immigration, and Trump has stoked and leveraged that for political gain. But if he follows through on his anti-DACA pledge, nobody else wins.

Hundreds of college presidents have signed petitions to preserve the DACA program, including many in the Northwest. The presidents of the University of Washington, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and the University of Idaho are among those who are supportive. UW President Ana Mari Cauce was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States when she was 3.

Dreamers are not the criminals Trump says he wants to corral. They would be ineligible for DACA status if they were. They couldn’t apply for state aid.

Rescinding their status would only make America mean again.