Whittier College reacted swiftly to the Department of Justice’s announcement last week that it would wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
As breaking news on Wednesday evening indicated, Democrats and President Trump may be reaching an accord on the fate of DACA recipients, or Dreamers, whose fate was put into question with last weeks’ announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whittier College had already mobilized to help protect its immigrant students.
On Tuesday, Sep. 5, Sessions announced that the DACA program would be repealed. The DACA program, enacted by Former President Barack Obama in 2012, offered protection from deportation for immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, have lived in the United States for at least five years, are high school graduates, and/or are military veterans in good standing. In addition, recipients or “Dreamers” must also be younger than 30 years of age and have a clean criminal record.
In light of the announcement that the Trump Administration would start winding down the program over the next six months, Whittier College administration publicly declared its support for Dreamers and the DACA program. On Sep. 4, Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Brown and Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger sent out an email informing the community of Whittier’s support for DACA recipients, reminding the community of the values which Whittier College was founded upon.
“In light of recent news that President Trump is considering an end to the DACA program, we write to reaffirm Whittier’s unconditional support for all of our immigrant, refugee, and undocumented community members, and those with DACA status,” said Brown and Herzberger in the email. “And as we stated in the Poet Student Sanctuary Protection Policy released last spring, Whittier College stands in solidarity with students who seek sanctuary, as a reaffirmation of our commitment to the values upon which Whittier was founded, including respect for the individual regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.”
Last spring, the Whittier College Board of Trustees and administration introduced the Poet Student Sanctuary Protection Policy to the Whittier community following a meeting between Whittier DACA students, supporters, and board members. This meeting was facilitated by Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Perez in an effort to rally support for Whittier College becoming a sanctuary campus. It was decided that Whittier would not declare itself a sanctuary because of the lack of a concrete definition. The College, however, did ultimately choose to adopt policies that would allow it to be an inclusive space for undocumented students while providing them with the proper resources.
Many students around campus have reacted to Sessions’ announcement news with confusion, anger, and, to some, an increased sense of uncertainty.
“I am upset because I just see this as another racist attack,” said Senior History Major Gaby Gil, a DACA student on campus. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me, so I go back and forth from feeling angry and confused, but also motivated because I do know that people before me have done great things without the protection of DACA.”
Gil came to the United States at the age of nine from Guatemala, and although she was not caught off-guard by the announcement, Gil still finds the future unnerving. “It’s draining to be in limbo and just not know what’s going to happen next because of the six-month timeframe that’s been given to Congress,” said Gil. “On top of that, I have to worry about being a senior in college, my family, and my job. All of this adds a humongous burden, and not many people have to worry about being able to stay in the country, except for the 800,000 DACA recipients.”
In addition to the College adopting the Poet Student Sanctuary Protection Policy, President Herzberger joined 45 other Quaker schools across the country in signing an open letter to President Trump urging his administration to continue supporting the DACA program.
“We write to express our affirmation for the young people that are protected from deportation under DACA, and urge you to do everything in your power to continue that same protection well beyond Sep. 5,” the letter reads.
Currently, Whittier College has been making it a priority to ensure that students are aware of their rights and are well-educated on the available resources as outlined in the Poet Student Sanctuary Protections Policy. The policy outlines the protections provided to students and include: students having equal access the College’s educational resources, all administrative staff receive any training needed to meet the particular challenges facing DACA students, designating the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) to be a resource for DACA students, and alerting the community in the event that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are present on campus.
Dean Perez acted as an adviser with the Board of Trustees during the drafting of the Poet Student Sanctuary Protections Policy. “My role now is ensuring that we’re achieving what the policies set out to do,” said Perez. “The other piece that I’m responsible for is that if custom enforcement shows up on campus, people should know that they can refer them to me, and I can verify that they have legal documentation to obtain any records they might be seeking assuming they have the right warrants. So, I’m mainly a resource to help facilitate, get the word out, and remind people of the Poet Protection Policy and also what we’re doing on campus,” said Perez.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) seeks to be the main resource on campus for DACA students and are planning to host faculty workshops on Undocumented Student Ally Training later in the semester.
“[The OEI] provides us with a space to speak up and express ourselves, and to seek help,” said third-year and DACA student Cristian Alcantara. “The director [Jenny Guerra] has also reached out to different departments to make sure that they’re abiding to the Poet Sanctuary Agreement. While we may not have an undocumented resource center, this is probably the closest thing. I think this is a really good space for us.”
Dean Perez also explains that despite the proposed repeal of the DACA program, the Poet Student Sanctuary Protection Policy will remain in place and the school will continue to provide aid and support to undocumented students.
“I think we would look for ways to support students who are undocumented,” said Perez. “We’d look for other ways that our school might think about awarding scholarships to students who are undocumented that might not be tied to federal aid, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Late Wednesday evening, it was announced that President Trump and Democrat leaders have reached a deal that would protect Dreamers from deportation. The Quaker Campus will continue to follow this story as it develops.