On Tuesday, Sept. 5, President Trump signed an executive order ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also known as the Dreamer program, which went into effect June 12, 2012. The program at present offers work permits to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors and have resided in the country for at least four years.
Along with the order, the Trump administration released a statement explaining their reasoning. The document calls on Congress to “advance responsible immigration reform” and features a deadline of six months to pass such legislation, after which DACA work permits will begin to expire; all permits will expire in two years. The statement disclosed the pressure contributing to the executive order: “Officials from ten states are suing over the program, requiring my administration to make a statement regarding its legality.” Following advice from “Attorney General of the United States [Jefferson Sessions], and the Attorneys General of many states,” the administration concluded that the DACA program “is unlawful and unconstitutional.”
This perception is not unanimous, however; Dr. Linda Stevenson, Interim Dean of the Political Science Department and professor of Latin American Studies at West Chester University, disagrees. “It’s a little late after five years. Should Congress have done it a long time ago? Absolutely, but what President Obama did wasn’t illegal.”
The statement further claims that the DACA program “helped spur a humanitarian crisis—the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout the country, such as MS-13.” Some though, like Stevenson, argue “equating the status of young migrants with criminals is an error. It’s an error to relate one specific gang from one specific country [El Salvador]. Making this generalization out of a tiny slice of the 800,000 people when he hasn’t shown any correlation between MS-13 members and DACA recipients simply doesn’t hold water, so at this point, it is just hyperbole.” She concluded by exhorting the administration to, “Show [her] the data!”
Stevenson also went on the record to respond to the Trump administration’s claim that they “are focused on criminals” and that “DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals” by revealing that “what [she’s] hearing on the ground from undocumented families is that they’re taking more than criminals. For example, this March, in Pennsylvania, Jonatan Palacios, a DACA recipient, was in the process of legalizing and was arrested outside his apartment and detained by I.C.E. He had committed no crime.”
Furthermore, Stevenson took issue with the administration’s claim that undocumented immigrants cause “lower wages and higher unemployment for American workers, substantial burdens on local schools and hospitals, the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels, and many billions of dollars a year in costs paid for by U.S. taxpayers” by explaining that “this is the classic rhetoric of the neoliberal right, looking for a simple solution to a very complex set of solutions—in this case, trying to scapegoat immigrants. In my opinion, this attack on migrant youth will backfire on them politically.”
One early childhood immigrant and DACA recipient, Miguel Nuñez, now a senior marketing student at WCU and treasurer of Lambda Alpha Upsilon fraternity, was eager to report that “the program was initiated at the perfect time in 2012 right as I was graduating high school.” Nuñez said, “At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, personally; I didn’t know if I was going to go into college, go into the military, go back to Mexico. So, because it came out at the perfect time, I immediately jumped on board and applied. I got everything situated and eventually I got the work authorization document saying that you have a Social Security card which allows you to apply to colleges and get a driver’s license.” Nuñez went on to express his gratitude to the Obama administration, because “not only did it help me to succeed, but also I was able to make something out of it; I was able to help my parents out.”
Alexander Habbart, a junior at West Chester and treasurer of Hillel, agreed that “DACA in a vacuum is a good program” but objected that “it was accompanied by Former President Obama drastically increasing deportations and actually deporting more people than any other president before him at three million people… we’ll see what Donald Trump does after this executive order, with all of his rhetoric.”
Wilson Cordón, West Chester senior and vice president of Lambda Alpha Upsilon Latino Americana Unida fraternity incorporated, shared a similar story to Nuñez’s about his friend Jamileth. “She was in the DACA program,” Cordon says, “and because of that, she got her Associates.” But unlike Nuñez, who will finish his degree in marketing next spring before his DACA permit expires, Jamileth’s permit expires in six months, one of the earliest, “and because of [Tuesday’s executive order] she’s not sure if she will be able to go back to get her bachelor’s degree. She had a baby, she got married, and she was planning on going back to school to support her son better, but now they’re possibly looking to go back to Guatemala to pursue a life there, but they don’t know.”
Nuñez, when asked if he believed legislation will be forthcoming, as the President has stated, responded: “I hope so, and expect so within six months, as they so-called promised. I believe it’s time to do something about it.” He said, “the U.S is a country of immigrants. Everybody had their own time. You had the English, the Irish, you had the Chinese—people from all over the world. You could say that Latinos are the most recent wave of immigrants, and if you were able to help out people in the past, you can help out people now too and set up a process for the future so that way we don’t have problems like we’re having now.” Nuñez finished by saying that, “if it was up to [him], [he] would like to have a better NAFTA, where you could have free influx of peoples from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Open trade, open borders; like a European-style Shengen-zone for North America.”
President Fiorentino of West Chester University released a message to the school stating that this institution is a “proud host of students who have benefited under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program,” and that he, “encourage[s] our students, faculty, and staff to join [him] in asking Congress to act immediately to pass legislation to resolve this issue.”
Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology and Spanish. He can be reached at AG851503@wcupa.edu.