University President John J. DeGioia and the leaders of three other Washington, D.C.-area colleges and universities called on Congress to pass the Dream Act of 2017, a bill that would protect undocumented students from deportation and provide a path to citizenship, in a Monday panel.
DeGioia spoke alongside George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard, and Northern Virginia Community College President Scott Ralls. The presidents said it was imperative to protect their institutions’ undocumented students with a permanent legislative replacement for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects about 800,000 undocumented children brought to the country by their parents from deportation, before its protections are eliminated in March.
One such legislative measure, the Dream Act of 2017, is currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would grant permanent resident status to current DACA recipients and to immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors, have no serious criminal record, have a high school diploma or are currently enrolled in school and have lived in the country continuously for at least four years prior to the bill being passed. Originally introduced by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin (SFS ’66, LAW ’69) of Illinois and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the bill now also has the support of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski (COL ’80) of Alaska.
DeGioia said the goal of the presidents’ effort is to “encourage Congress to pass bipartisan legislation as soon as possible that includes all of the protections provided under DACA.” He said it is important that the legislative solution allows young people without documentation “a path to citizenship so that they may continue to live, work and serve without fear or threat of deportation.”
In a joint op-ed published in The Hill on Monday, the four presidents called on Congress to pass the Dream Act, saying their undocumented students “have earned their places on our campuses.”
“They are members of our communities. They have done all the things we expect of our young people, and for their efforts so many have been able to earn places on our college campuses,” the presidents wrote. “They want — and deserve — the chance to continue learning and living in America without the constant fear of deportation.”
The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 it would rescind DACA with a six-month delay, allowing Congress to enact a permanent replacement. If DACA were terminated without a legislative replacement, students protected under the program would face a more immediate threat of deportation to their countries of birth. The policy currently shields its beneficiaries from such a threat and allows them to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses.
The event, introduced with remarks by DACA recipient Luis Gonzalez (COL ’19) and concluded with an address by Georgetown University Student Association President Kamar Mack (COL ’19), included a video of how DACA has improved the lives of undocumented students.
It was hosted as part of “Higher Education Week,” a weeklong national campaign led by the American Council on Education to promote support for undocumented students at colleges and universities. DeGioia chaired the ACE from March 2016 until March 2017.
Monday’s panel and op-ed mark the latest acceleration in an ongoing campaign by Georgetown to support a permanent legislative solution to DACA.
After the Trump administration announced it would rescind DACA last month, DeGioia sent letters lobbying for a legislative replacement to members of Congress. He called the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the program “unconscionable” in a Sept. 5 statement and reiterated his support for “Dreamers.”
The Georgetown Office of Federal Relations partnered with GUSA and the student advocacy group UndocuHoyas earlier this semester on the “Friends of Dreamers” campaign, through which Georgetown students, parents, alumni and faculty have sent over 1,000 letters to congressional representatives in support of permanent legislation to protect the about 800,000 individuals who are now protected by the program.
The university promoted part-time coordinator for undocumented students Arelis Palacios to full-time associate director for undocumented student services in August. The university has also created a website that outlines the resources available to “Dreamers” and partnered with Catholic Charities to provide free and anonymous legal guidance.
Members of the broader university community have also mobilized in support of Georgetown’s undocumented students. Both La Casa Latina and the Black House declared themselves safe and supportive spaces for students without documentation, and the Graduate Student Government affirmed its support of DACA recipients by endorsing a campaign to publish a letter of its own Monday.
“On each of the occasions that I’ve had the privilege to meet with our undocumented students here at Georgetown, I’ve sought to reassure and remind them of two things,” DeGioia said. “The first, that each one of them belongs here. Their membership in our community is not only welcome, but vital. Second, that they are part of a community that is committed to ensuring they can succeed in an environment that is free from constraint or fear.”
Cabrera said colleges and universities must provide robust institutional support for students threatened by the possible termination of the program.
“We need to try our best to provide whatever guidance we can,” Cabrera said. “We need to continue to support, to provide love, advice and funds.”
It is essential for educational institutions to defend students without documentation and their place within their communities, Pollard said.
“If I don’t speak and lift up and create a space for their truth and their lived experiences, then I’m not doing my job as a college president,” Pollard said.
Gonzalez said during the panel DACA gave him a sense of security in his future he had not felt before.
“When I secured my DACA status, it allowed me to make the decision to come to Georgetown. DACA gave me the confidence and security I had not had before. I lived in fear and in the shadows,” Gonzalez said. “Thanks to the protections of DACA, I have been able to do things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, like get on plane or work on campus in the Division of Student Affairs.”
Pollard said college and university presidents now had the opportunity and the responsibility to help people like Gonzalez never have to fear again.
“I think this is quite possibly one of the social justice issues of our time,” Pollard said. “We yet again find ourselves in the position of trying to talk about issues that are complex and that demand courage and demand vulnerability.”