Local higher ed institutions, students call for DACA protection
A panel at the Community College of Philadelphia and one Cabrini University class’s trip to D.C. are a few examples of the role of local higher education and college students in DACA advocacy.
Higher education institutions in the Philadelphia area are addressing DACA on and off campus, advocating for Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act.
At a panel session at the Community College of Philadelphia last week, representatives from leading legal, nonprofit, and advocacy groups spoke on the current situation of the DACA program, and how students in higher education who are DACA recipients can navigate some of the issues presented by the current political uncertainty, as Congress continues to stall on passing DACA legislation and though two federal court rulings have blocked rescission of the program, the Trump administration’s March 5 deadline continues to throw a cloud over the future of the program.
Organized by Julie Odell, an assistant professor of English at CCP, the panel on Feb. 23 also included discussion on what the future of the DACA program might be, and how current students, documented and undocumented alike, can advocate for a DREAM Act.
CCP immigration legal partner Desiree Welborn Wayne, Esq., mentioned the services of the college’s “Single Stop” program, which provides free legal consultation and services for all CCP students, regardless of their immigration status, that could be invaluable for undocumented or DACA-mented students trying to navigate the legal process of applying or determining their next steps in the future.
Cathryn Miller-Wilson, Executive Director of HIAS, said that HIAS provides legal and supportive services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from all backgrounds, and the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) also makes available funds for undocumented and DACA-mented individuals to help with the steep application fees often required by USCIS.
Miller-Wilson noted that flooding representatives’ offices with calls “really does matter,” as does involvement in advocacy work such as the Walk to Stay Home, a 250-mile trek 11 undocumented youth and allies are making from New York City to Washington, D.C. in order to call for the passage of a clean DREAM Act.
Olivia Vazquez, one of the panelists at the event who is a youth organizer at Juntos and current DACA recipient, emphasized that DACA in and of itself does not define an undocumented individual's ability to enroll in higher education.
“I started CCP when I was undocumented and didn't even have DACA,” Vazquez, a graduate of CPP, said.
Miller-Wilson noted that immigration policies are “not reality-based in terms of people’s lives,” adding that the current immigration policies are “offensive to who we are as Americans.”
She urged students to “really think about the opportunity that this movement presents to change the conversation.”
“A lot of the time we don’t talk about what forces people to come,” Vazquez said, agreeing that the full context of many immigrants’ journey to the U.S. often goes unnoticed.
Vazquez also stressed the importance of immediate action because “people are still being deported here in Philadelphia,” despite the city’s policy that bars city officials and employees from asking residents about their immigration status. To this end, Vazquez said that Juntos began a community resistance program to teach people in communities throughout Philadelphia their rights and how to document possible transgressions by law enforcement, whether that be local police or ICE agents.
“We always say the people who can best support you is your next-door neighbor,” Vazquez said.
Desiree Welborn Wayne, Esq., CCP immigration legal partner, pointed out that the first challenge to rescinding DACA came from universities and higher education institutions across the country, as they continue to be a voice for DACA.
According to a 2014 Migrant Policy Institute report, approximately 241,000 college students across the country are DACA recipients. After the Trump Administration announced the decision to end DACA in September, higher education institutions around the country stated their support for the DACA program and called on Congress to pass legislation to protect current DACA students and establish a path to citizenship for them.
Another area higher education institution has also recently taken a stand against the decision to end DACA. On Feb. 22 last week, students from Cabrini University’s Immigration, Law, and Social Justice class traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the DREAM Act.
Abel Rodriguez, an assistant professor of religion, law, and social justice and director of the Center on Immigration at Cabrini, has taught the class for several years. He said that this year’s trip is part of an ongoing effort his class has made to advocate for immigration policy reform in D.C.
This year's group included 16 students and two professors who went to D.C. to meet with the staff of Senator Casey, Senator Toomey, and other members of Congress. For many of the students it was their first time doing this sort of work, Rodriguez said, noting that he has received positive feedback from students in previous years after participating in the advocacy trip to either D.C. or Harrisburg.
Rodriguez said reflection on the experience and how to carry it forward is a part of the class's follow-up after the trip, which includes continued advocacy work.
“The fact that they actually get to go and have their voices heard is pretty impactful,” he said.