Town, University Respond to DACA Decision
By Donald Gilpin
The Princeton immigrant community, in town and on campus, met with dismay U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s announcement yesterday that President Trump plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The announcement called for Congress to replace the policy before it fully expires in March 2018.
Instituted by President Obama’s executive action in 2012, DACA protects about 800,000 “dreamers,” including many who have lived in the United States their whole lives. As early as March 5, they could face deportation to countries where they have never lived.
“Ending DACA is a cruel decision that will tear apart families, undermine our economy, and betray our values,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. “DACA recipients are in school and college, holding jobs, paying taxes, and contributing to our local and national economies. Some have started families.”
She continued, “Princeton continues to stand as a welcoming community that recognizes that all our residents, regardless of immigration status, make vital contributions to the success of our town. We urge Congress to act quickly to create an immigration system that is fair, just, and moral. In our community we will work with our local residents to understand the impact of this decision and continue to support them.”
Yesterday’s announcement follows through on Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to end Mr. Obama’s immigration policy, while shifting responsibility for resolving the immigration issue to Congress. Officials claimed that current beneficiaries of the program will not be immediately affected by “an orderly wind down” of the previous administration’s policies.
Mr. Sessions stated that the Obama policy was an unconstitutional use of executive authority, “implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern” and an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws.”
Immediate effects of the announcement are not clear. Some current immigrants who are under the jurisdiction of DACA will be able to renew their two-year period of legal status until October 5, according to government officials, but without the protection of DACA they would be eligible for deportation unless Congress extended protection. If the Republican-controlled Congress does not act before March 5, the DACA protections will expire.
In a letter sent to congressional leaders yesterday, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said, “It is within the power of Congress to give these young people the protections and peace of mind that DACA provided, and going beyond that, a path to permanent residence and citizenship.”
In urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pass legislation that would provide protection for DACA-eligible young people, Mr. Eisgruber added, “I strongly believe that such action would be in the national interest, in addition to being very much the right thing to do. I hope Congress will take this action, and will take it quickly.”
In a letter sent to the White House last week, Mr. Eisgruber had urged Mr. Trump to continue the DACA program. “Repealing DACA would be a tragic mistake,” Mr. Eisgruber wrote. “DACA is a wise and humane policy that benefits the country in multiple ways. It has allowed talented and motivated students, who came here as a result of decisions by their parents, to pursue educations and contribute positively to our communities and our country.”
Commenting on the White House decision, Princeton University Sociology Professor Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, who is chair of the board of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. based in Trenton and Princeton, stated, “The problem here is that these are Americans, kids who have grown up in the United States. It is outrageous, preposterous, and not consistent with American values to put nearly one million young people and their families into this situation. It is unnecessary suffering inflicted for political reasons. The president is governing in the name of a small minority that sees immigrants as a contamination of American values.”
Warning of the negative repercussions of the “cruel and very hypocritical, morally offensive, and unjust” rescinding of DACA, Ms. Fernandez-Kelly added, “It is a clear signal that race and racial discrimination continue to guide this administration.”
In his letter last week, Mr. Eisgruber had reminded Mr. Trump, “You have said that DACA students are ‘incredible kids,’ and I very much agree.” He continued, “Fair treatment and inclusivity are values fundamental to America’s Constitution, its history, and its future. DACA carries forward these commitments and exemplifies the spirit that has long defined this country: it enables hardworking, honest young people to thrive as engaged and productive members of our society, and it strengthens us all through the talent that they bring to America.”
Ms. Lempert noted that residents can call the Princeton Human Services Department at (609) 688-2055 or visit the municipal website at princetonnj.gov/HS/Information-Resources-Immigrant-Residents.pdf for information and referrals to legal services.