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Professors discuss the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

| Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a four-part series examining the effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and its potential repeal at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Today’s story features analysis from Notre Dame professors who are experts in the field of immigration law.

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama — would be rescinded in six months.

DACA delayed the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children, allowing them to work or pursue an education in the United States, American studies professor Jason Ruiz said.

Ruiz said the order freed DACA recipients from a kind of “legal limbo.”

“They were brought here as children without documentation and, therefore, are undocumented people, immigrants living in the United States but by and large see themselves as Americans,” he said.  “[They] speak English, went to a U.S. high school [and] maybe culturally and socially consider themselves Americans.”

Associate professor of Spanish and faculty senate president Ben Heller said although the effects of the DACA repeal will be delayed for six months, the time period “will pass very quickly.”

“[DACA recipients] may lose protection as early as next March,” he said. “This creates an anxiety among students who are able to study, thanks to the provision, and that anxiety is something the faculty senate feels is detrimental to their education.”

Heller said faculty senate supports the sentiments Fr. Jenkins expressed in a statement condemning the repeal of DACA.

“The response of the University at this point has been very appropriate,” he said. “We were heartened to see Fr. Jenkins come out with his statement the day DACA was repealed.”

Faculty senate has discussed the possibility of drafting a letter to Indiana representatives, asking them to pass a law to reinstate the DACA provisions, Heller said.

“I would simply say the faculty senate supports [DACA students] as members of the Notre Dame family,” he said. “We are concerned for their welfare and safety. We are doing what we can to send a clear message of support.”

Heller said he does not know whether the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act will pass. The legislation would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“I can’t predict the behavior of Congress at this point — I’m not sure anyone can,” he said. “[Faculty senate] will urge the congressmen of Indiana to promote protection of the students. I would say it’s quite important going forward that DACA not be tied to other kinds of political initiatives — for example, a border wall. … I think that’s going to be the greatest obstacle to getting a remedy through.”

Ruiz said he also thinks the DACA repeal could be used by President Donald Trump to push for a border wall.

“I think the repeal of DACA is also a negotiating point and a bargaining chip in [President Trump’s] ongoing and misguided efforts to build a border wall,” he said. “The wall was a huge promise and really, when you think about it from a logistical point of view, a pretty outrageous one that he’s going to build a 3,000 mile wall.”

Ruiz said undocumented students have overcome challenges “on a social, linguistic, cultural [and] economic front” and are some of the hardest working students he has seen.

“I think one heart-breaking misconception might be that they are less deserving to be here or got offered a spot here because of their undocumented status,” he said. “And in my view, it’s the total opposite.”

Ruiz added that he doesn’t know if the University is a safe place for undocumented students given the threat of deportation. However, Notre Dame “seems adamant in its mission” to protect DACA students, he said.

“I don’t know what type of enforcement the federal government or border patrol would try to engage with in terms of removing DACA students from a college campus,” he said. “But I do think that Notre Dame is in a group of schools that, if I were an undocumented student, I would want to be at.”

Ruiz said students looking to support their DACA peers should begin by recognizing it is an important issue for everyone. They should not expect any DACA student to act as a “spokesperson” for the policy, he added.

“DACA is not only about the particular students benefitting from it, but it’s about having a campus and a culture of education in America that is inclusive and provides protection to people who were brought here as children,” Ruiz said.

Students should continue to advocate for legal protection for undocumented students, even after the DACA repeal is no longer breaking news, Ruiz said.

“I would say [students] can refuse to forget about this when the news cycle moves on, and they can stay vocal,” he said. “I think students have the right and, if I dare say, the duty to press the administration on this campus and to keep reminding the administration that it should support undocumented students.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie Weber graduated in 2020 from the University of Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in journalism and computing. A native of Grand Junction, Colorado she most recently served as Managing Editor at The Observer. // Email: [email protected] // Twitter: @wordsbyweber

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