November 15, 2017

University, Locals Take Action on DACA As Legislators Clash

By Donald Gilpin

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s get-tough-on-immigration campaign and many months of harsh rhetoric from the White House, the federal government announced on September 5 that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would end in six months. Trump’s decision turned the problem over to Congress to determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of young people (known as DREAMers) who have received work permits or deportation relief since the program began five years ago. 

Pushing for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act bill without any funding for a border wall, increased enforcement, or immigrant detention centers, Democratic leaders said in September that they had a deal with the White House that included permanent protections for Dreamers and a pathway to citizenship. Now both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are calling for a bill to resolve their differences.

Whether Congress and the White House take action before a December 8 spending bill deadline, before the end of the year, or even before the March 5 date when DACA protections will expire remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, however, Princeton locals, University officials, and others have not been standing idly by.

On November 3, Princeton University, along with one of its students and Microsoft, filed a complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging that DACA’s termination violated both the United States Constitution and federal law. At Microsoft and its subsidiary LinkedIn, at least 45 DACA recipients are currently employed, many serving “in critical roles.”

The complaint states that the cancellation of DACA severely harms Princeton undergraduate Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez, who has been a beneficiary of the program, and other DREAMers, and “the employers and educational institutions that rely on and benefit from their contributions.”

Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) Director Adriana Abizadeh pointed out that anxiety in the local community has been high, but initiatives for protective countermeasures have also been particularly prevalent.

“In the Princeton community we have seen an increase in the number of clients seeking legal screenings, looking for opportunities to adjust their legal status,” she said. “We have wonderful community partners that have educated themselves about basic rights and are able to empower their clients through collaborative workshops and printed resources we provide.”

Focusing on reducing fear within the immigrant community, LALDEF has held community information sessions and rallies, and has made scripts, delivered letters, and signed and delivered petitions.

Inviting individuals to join a November 20 11 a.m. rally at Rep. Chris Smith’s office during the recess before Congress reconvenes to review the budget, Abizadeh stated, “There is a discharge petition in the House that requires 218 votes in order for it to be presented for a vote. Forcing it to the floor without attachments for immigration deportation and detention enforcement is the moral responsibility of those we have charged with the powers of the legislative branch of our government.”

Princeton University’s complaint against the federal government asserts that DACA’s termination would cause the University “to suffer the loss of critical members of its community”; that DACA students “are among the most accomplished and respected students studying at the University”; that they “serve as mentors and peer advisors, class representatives in student government, and as community organizers and campus leaders”; and “have earned numerous academic honors, awards, and fellowships.”

The complaint also notes that the presence of DREAMers helps the University to achieve the diversity and inclusion that are a significant element of Princeton’s educational mission.

The lawsuit claims that the government’s actions violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The complaint asks for a declaration that the DACA program is lawful and constitutional, and for an injunction that both stops the government from terminating DACA and prevents the government from using the information provided by the DREAMers against them or for purposes of immigration enforcement.

A year ago Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber joined a group of what is now more than 700 college and university presidents who have signed on to a statement supporting the DACA program. In August of this year Eisgruber wrote to President Trump urging him not to repeal DACA, then in September sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to act quickly to protect DACA students.

In November, Princeton joined 18 other colleges and universities in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief in U.S. District Court at San Francisco to challenge the federal government’s termination of DACA.