As the United States wrestles with the fate of thousands of its undocumented residents, one Western affiliated college immediately stepped into the fray and offered a helping hand – and a hefty scholarship – to students seeking a way out.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump formally ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – informally known as DACA – and threw into uncertainty the nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children the program protected from deportation. The move forces the U.S. Congress to act to preserve the program’s protections before recipients begin losing their status on March 5, 2018.
Anticipating the announcement, Huron University College officials moved quickly to establish a $60,000 scholarship for students who could be negatively affected, should DACA be successfully repealed.
“We had a similar concern when the travel ban (temporarily blocking people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States) was first announced, which, at that time, could have affected our own students and faculty,” said Barry Craig, Huron Principal. “In this case, it is unlikely to affect any of our own, but we still had, essentially, the same humanitarian concern. We want to say this is an injustice.
“This may all get worked out in Congress, and in the end, everybody may be fine. But right now, there are 800,000 young people, many of them in postsecondary education, at a state of considerable anxiety. Think of starting university and thinking that within six months, you would be deported. What could be more concerning?”
Introduced by former U.S. President Barack Obama, DACA protected a group known as ‘The Dreamers’ from deportation, allowing them to work legally in the United States under two-year, renewable work permits.
Leading universities in the United States, including Notre Dame, Columbia, and Baylor University, deep in the red state of Texas, have condemned the potential repeal, and seeing Canadian institutions join their ranks, Craig was compelled to do the same.
“There are at least three things we intend from this,” he said. “First, concretely, to help any individual we can that is negatively affected. Second, to make a public statement of disagreement with this policy. And third, to make a statement to our own students. We are challenging them to become more socially engaged. The institution is willing to put its money where its mouth is. If all we do is train their intellect, we’re selling them short. We’re trying to inspire kids as much as possible to get involved in politics and social change.”
Huron is working to publicize the scholarship by way of media coverage and with help from a consultant in the United States.
“We understand this a policy of the U.S. government. We don’t have a right to affect or change politics of another government. But any citizen can look at any kind of injustice, anywhere, and say, ‘That’s something that doesn’t align with our values.’ In this case, people who were encouraged to stay, and provided for a long period of time under the DACA program, might now have the rug pulled out from underneath them. That for us is unjust.”
David Sylvester, Principal of King’s University College, echoed Craig’s sentiments, commending Huron for showing leadership on what is an issue of great concern with respect to social justice.
“For Catholic institutions, it’s in our DNA. It’s part of our social justice commitment to serving marginalized communities and providing access to socioeconomically marginalized groups,” said Sylvester, the Canadian representative to the Board of American Catholic Colleges and Universities, a group whose more than 200 member organizations have led the charge against the DACA repeal.
“King’s is tuned into this issue and is following our colleagues in The States. If a Dreamer showed up at our door, we would certainly not turn our back on them. We would embrace them and offer generous scholarships, as we do for others. Our students see it as a justice issue. They want to learn more. There’s concern and puzzlement on why this step was taken. It’s just an unjust decision and it concerns us greatly.”
While the DACA repeal isn’t a done deal, universities still have to have a global conscience and are obligated to respond, added Jim Weese, Western’s Acting Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (International).
“It’s a very early time right now. A lot of stuff is still up in the air. There’s going to be legal challenges. That said, I applaud the effort of our colleagues at Huron. Our universities have to have social justice and that global consciousness in mind, and be alert to and respond to global issues,” he said.
“And certainly, Western has done this in the past with our Scholars at Risk program and our Syrian refugee scholarship program and other things.”
WHAT IS DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was designed to protect from deportation eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children. Renewable every two years, the program gives young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation and a work permit.
Requirements call for recipients to:
- Be under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
- Have come to the United States before their 16th birthday;
- Have lived continuously in the United States from June 15, 2007 until the present;
- Be physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time they apply;
- To have come to the United States without documents before June 15, 2012, or their lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012;
- Be studying currently, or graduated from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies); and
- Have not been convicted of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors (including a single DUI) or three or more misdemeanors of any kind.