Sen. Dick Durbin (SFS ’66, LAW ’69), a Democrat from Illinois, rose to the Senate floor Aug. 2 to tell the story of one of the more than 750,00 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He had been talking about these immigrants for years, but this time he had a personal connection.
From underneath his lectern, he produced a visual aid with a portrait of Juan Martinez (SFS ’20).
“In his senior year of high school, he applied to his dream school — once my dream school — Georgetown University, and he was accepted,” Durbin said.
Following the election of President Donald Trump, he began partnering with Georgetown to make Hoyas the focus of his floor speeches in defense of DACA. Durbin’s advocacy on immigration reform and the future of immigrants living in the United States without authorization has persisted for more than 16 years in the Senate with support from both parties.
The legislative front is just one of the few areas where Georgetown has ratcheted up its efforts to urge the federal government to keep the policy in place. On Sept. 5, officials from ten states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are set to bring a lawsuit challenging the program’s legal basis.
The program, created through an executive order by President Barack Obama in 2015, provides temporary relief for deportation to immigrants who were brought here as young children and renewable two-year work authorization, provided they pass a background check, study or enlist in the military and pay a $495 fee. That order, the ten officials argue, constitutes executive overreach on the part of Obama.
But DACA might be rescinded sooner than Tuesday, with several outlets reporting the decision might come from the White House as early as today.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanne Talbot wrote in an email to The Hoya that the policy is undergoing a review process in cooperation with the Department of Justice and the White House, but no decision has been made regarding its future.
As members of the Georgetown community returned or arrived for the first time to campus for the start of a new academic year, undocumented students were particularly concerned about becoming vulnerable to deportations.
Now that they have disclosed their information and registered with the U.S. government, some fear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement might trace and target them. Luis Gonzalez (COL ’19) is one of them.
“What if that [Transportation Security Agency] agent asks for my visa when I provide them with my passport?” Gonzalez said. “Or what if I have a job on campus and that job allowed me to pay for my books or allowed me to send money back home?”
The administration might choose to rescind the program and allow the work permits to expire, which could take as long as two years. But the government could also demand the documents be returned, which would prevent beneficiaries from applying for employment and some internships.
Some students have gone as far as using tactics of civil disobedience to make their voices heard. Chris Wager Saldívar (SFS ’17) was arrested with five other activists Aug. 15 after blocking the entrance to Paxton’s office in Austin, Texas for nearly three hours.
“It was to show folks that you’re not alone and there are folks with citizenship privilege who are willing to put our well-being on the line to make sure that immigrant community are safe,” Wager Saldívar said.
Those “folks,” he said, include “my loved ones that I graduated with, studied with and organized with at Georgetown.”
Although promised to be released the next morning, Wager Saldívar spent 24 hours in Travis County Jail after being charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
Georgetown students have also turned to community organizing to help unauthorized immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers. In partnership with the Georgetown University Student Association and the Office of Federal Relations, UndocuHoyas created a program called “Friends of Dreamers,” through which constituents can send letters to their elected members of Congress telling the story of an UndocuHoya and asking for their advocacy on the issue.
“It’s always important to keep in contact with representatives, regardless of wherever the representatives are, even if they’re Democrats or Republicans,” Gonzalez said. “A phone call from a constituent, an ally of an undocumented person, goes a long way, especially if you’re a student at Georgetown.”
The incertitude around DACA has also led community organizers to speak out in favor of another piece of legislation, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act. Originally introduced by Durbin in 2001, the bill was most recently reintroduced with bipartisan support, including Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (COL ’80) from Alaska.
“In the highly contentious world of immigration policy, one of the least controversial propositions is that the children of undocumented individuals, who were brought to the United States by their parents and were educated here, should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams in America,” Murkowski wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Along with members of Alaska’s faith community, I share the strong moral conviction that the Dreamers should be free from fear of deportation.”
Georgetown also created the full-time position of associated director for undocumented student services within the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, hiring Arelis Palacios to fill the role. Palacios formerly served as a part-time undocumented student adviser through her position in the Office of Global Education.
Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor that day were almost clairvoyant, as he echoed the concerns of many immigrants who now do not know if their information is safe.
“President Trump said to me ‘don’t worry about those kids,’” Durbin said. “Well, Mr. President, I continue to worry about these kids, I continue to worry about those kids every day.”
But when asked about advocacy, what Gonzalez really wishes is to have a conversation with a Trump supporter.
“I’m very optimistic that that would make a difference, … find the things that we have in common, the love that we have for this country,” Gonzalez said. “At the end of the day I think we have more things in common than we think, but we never hear about the conversations happening between both sides.”