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Observer Editorial: ‘Foolish, cruel, un-American’

| Friday, September 15, 2017

“Welcome home.”

Each year, students open a message to find those words — an introduction to a campus, a community and, most importantly, a family.

It’s a family that sticks together for much longer than four years. It’s a family made up of all different types of people, with different personalities, backgrounds and values. It’s a family with members that support one another.

Since 2014, Notre Dame has accepted undocumented students and welcomed them into this family. In the past four years, Notre Dame alone enrolled 62 students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — otherwise known as DACA. Although it does not disclose an exact number for the safety of its students, Saint Mary’s has also accepted both undocumented and DACA students to its family in recent years.

This is their home.

After the Trump administration announced plans to stop granting protection under DACA — which allows children of migrants who live in the United States illegally to work and study — the weight falls on Congress. The president said Sept. 5 he would give the House and Senate a six-month period to pass legislation to replace the Obama-era executive order.

University President Fr. John Jenkins and College President Jan Cervelli have both made statements urging Congress to act, as DACA students — like all other students — provide valuable contributions to the campus community, bringing their own talents and perspectives.

“A decision to discontinue DACA would be foolish, cruel and un-American,” Jenkins said in a statement last week. “Foolish because it drives away talented people the country needs; cruel because it abandons people who have done nothing wrong and have known life only in the United States; and un-American because we have always welcomed immigrants to our land of opportunity.”

These students — some of whom fear deportation for themselves or for their families — are our classmates, neighbors and friends. They face an uncertain and disconcerting future, unsure of what Congress might decide on or how the repeal of the program could affect their educations or jobs.

For instance, a Notre Dame junior from India — speaking on the condition that his name not be published due to concerns for his safety — said it was his DACA status that allowed him to land an internship last summer.

“I think, without being able to use what I’ve learned here and without even having the means to continue that, I won’t really have any purpose,” he said. “I’d probably be doing manual labor or something, whereas I am confident — and I think a lot of other people would say this, too — that I can do a lot more than that.”

The company has invited him to return for a second internship this May. He doesn’t know whether or not it will be possible.

This is foolish.

Notre Dame junior Kevin Perez is a DACA student who was born in Mexico. But having lived in the United States since he was 5 years old, he said he doesn’t identify with his birthplace.

“I think that there might be [U.S.] citizens that know more about Mexico than I do because they’ve gone there on trips recently, whereas I haven’t lived there in 16 years,” Perez said.

Saint Mary’s sophomore Guadalupe Gonzalez was also born in Mexico. But, at a young age, she came with her parents to the United States, where she’s grown up and attended school.

“I have patriotism for this country,” Gonzalez said. “Yes, I am Mexican, and I was born in Mexico. But I don’t know anything of Mexico.”

“America doesn’t really like me right now,” she added. “But I know it. It’s all I know.”

It isn’t that she doesn’t want to become an American citizen, Gonzalez said. Right now, it’s just an impossible feat.

This is cruel.

In recent months, vitriolic rhetoric toward immigrants has increased, Gonzalez said.

“I’ve always known the U.S. didn’t really accept me or people like me, but I don’t like to think about it,” she said. “You just learn to live around that fear, around that hatred.”

In a country often described as a cultural “melting pot,” individuals from foreign nations have reported feeling increasingly unwanted and unwelcome.

This is un-American.

But Congress has the power to fix it.

Students, faculty and staff have already been reaching out to their elected officials, asking them to argue for a lasting solution to this pressing problem. At a time where people across the country live in uncertainty and fear, expediency is critical. We cannot let politics or partisanship take precedence over thousands of lives and livelihoods. These people are not the inconsequential political pawns rhetoric and policy has tried to reduce them to.

Both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s pledged to support DACA students in whatever way is necessary. And, so far, they have done just that. Cervelli said the College is providing free legal advice to any DACA student. Perez said the University has offered to help students pay the $500 renewal fee, fill out any forms and drive students to Michigan to complete fingerprinting required to renew DACA status.

We urge the members of these campus communities to follow the administrations’ leads.

We can call representatives and press for legislative action. We can organize or attend rallies. We can hang signs on our doors demonstrating our support. We can start conversations to help each other dispel misconceptions; to learn and understand by opening ourselves to new viewpoints and beliefs. We can support DACA and other undocumented students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

Because they are our family. And this is our home.

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