Community Responds to DACA Announcement

Photo courtesy of Viri Vallalva-Salas
Photo courtesy of Sophia Angele-Kuehn

After failed attempts at health-care reform, border-wall construction, and so-called ‘swamp drainage’ have left once-zealous voters wanting, President Donald Trump’s Sep. 5 announcement of DACA’s end offered his supporters much-needed reassurance. For others, the decision’s unclear implementation and rumors of bipartisan compromise further reveal the uncertain position of this ever-changing administration. But to nearly 800,000 Americans, the issue is not one of political bargaining or reputation; it is a promise of condemnation.

At a predominantly white institution like Connecticut College, it may seem that DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is a far-off concern. But DACA recipients may easily rank among our students, faculty, and staff. For the privacy and protection of these individuals, the College cannot responsibly disclose information about the presence of DACA recipients on campus.

“We’re living in such uncertain times that [the administration] is being extra cautious about revealing details,” commented Unity House director Truth Hunter. Instead, she noted that much of the public attention surrounding DACA on campus has been drawn by family, friends, and allies of DACA recipients. “For students who consider this to be a humanitarian issue, a human rights issue, [campus events are] a forum to speak up and to advocate for students who really feel like they cannot openly and publicly say: ‘I am one of the many whose status is at risk right now.’”

One such forum occurred on the afternoon of Sep. 11, when students, faculty, and staff gathered at the top of Tempel Green for a “Walk-out/Teach-in” organized by student organizations Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MECha), Asian Students in Action (ASIA), and the Student Government Association (SGA); the common interest housing group La Voz Latinx; and faculty members including Professors Natalie Avalos, Judelysse Gomez, and Dana Wright. Tying title to format, students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to disrupt the standard College routine by walking out of their classes and jobs at 1:30 to convene around the open-air classroom on the green. There, in late-summer heat, demonstrators shared insights and debunked misconceptions regarding DACA.

Presenters covered a variety of topics, a crucial one of which was DACA’s economic reality. Students negated a common stereotype disseminated by anti-immigrant citizens, politicians, and pundits: that undocumented immigrants are lazy and create a burden for the U.S. economy. Recent data shows the opposite; the Center for American Progress reported in a 2016 study that 87% of DACA recipients are employed, and the Cato Institute found that “the average DACA recipient is 22 years old, employed, and a student.” Considering DACA recipients’ high employment rates and frequent participation in major U.S. industries, “[The Center for American Progress] estimates that ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade.” The Cato Institute calculated a more conservative estimate, limiting their ten-year GDP-loss estimate to only $215 billion.

The economic benefits that the U.S. reaps from DACA recipients are not only sourced from the population’s high participation in the workforce, as DACA recipients also pay massive amounts in government and legal fees. At the Walk-out/Teach-in, Lysandra Saldaña ’18 noted that DACA renewal alone costs at least $495, and an organization titled Connecticut Students for a Dream is collecting donations to cover the renewal fees for DACA recipients who are eligible to renew before March 5, 2018. She encouraged those with the means to do so—who number in the majority at Connecticut College—to donate what they can.

“We have to emphasize that financial piece,” Hunter said during an earlier conversation, “It’s a class issue…it’s intersectional, so it is about race, because it disproportionately impacts people of color, but in addition to that, it’s going to impact people who come from poorer communities who don’t have the means to sufficiently and powerfully advocate for themselves.”

On this note, Dulmarie Irizarry, administrative assistant in Unity House, added: “That’s one of the things that baffles me. People don’t understand; they think: ‘Why don’t they hire a lawyer?’ If only they knew the ridiculous amount of money people have to pay, they wouldn’t be saying those comments.”

To provide access to legal counsel on immigration status to the Conn community, the College works with Mike Doyle, a lawyer with New London’s Immigration Advocacy and Support Center (IASC). Doyle noted that IASC and Conn have been partnered “from the start,” as the Center opened relatively recently (2014) in an effort to reverse New London’s status as a “service desert” where resources for the working poor have traditionally been few. But although IASC is headquartered in New London, its services are available for people from any place.

“We do not delineate,” said Doyle, “If you walk in, you can ask your question privately.”

Photo courtesy of Sophia Angele-Kuehn

IASC charges $20 for one consultation appointment, and for longer-term services, they determine fees on a case-by-case basis, using HUD guidelines as a point of reference and adjusting rates depending on what a client can actually afford.

“Sometimes we get full service fees. We get people with great jobs who can afford to pay full price,” Doyle noted, “Sometimes, we waive it all.”

Advocacy efforts made on the behalf of DACA recipients do not end in the economic sphere, and several comments at the Walk-out/Teach-in brought to light the experiences of those who are often left out of mainstream narratives. Members of ASIA, one of the event’s coordinating groups, reminded attendees that while discussions of immigration often focus on immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, the top ten countries of origin for DACA-eligible people include South Korea, China, India, and the Philippines.

As student efforts to defend DACA continue, organization has taken various forms. On Friday, Sep. 15, roughly 20 students gathered in Smith Game Room to call their senators and urge them to protect DACA recipients. On Saturday, Sep. 16, approximately 70 students boarded a bus in an effort organized by MECha and sponsored by SGA to attend a protest in Boston defending DACA.

“Historically student activists have been at the forefront of all social movements in this country,” Hunter noted, “I do think this is an issue where people need to stop the routine, walk out of class, be in community.”

While DACA recipients are put under threat by Trump’s decision, it’s important to note that DACA protections have not ended yet. As of Sep. 5, the U.S. government ceased acceptance of new DACA applications, but DACA recipients whose permits are set to expire by March 5, 2018 are still eligible for renewal, offering protection in 2019 and 2020. DACA recipients whose permits expire after that date have protection until their unique expiration dates, but they will not have the opportunity to renew once those dates arrive.

Alternatives to the DACA program are already being proposed. The Nation reports three congressional possibilities: Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin’s BRIDGE Act, which would extend DACA protections for three more years by law but offer no inroads to permanent residency status; Representative Carlos Curbelo and nine other House Republicans’ “Recognizing America’s Children Act,” which would offer “a five-year DACA-like protection”; and Durbin’s 17-year-old DREAM Act, which would make those who immigrated to the U.S. before age 18 green-card eligible. Whether or not Congress will successfully pass any of these alternatives, of course, is unknown.

Outside Congress, Trump’s aides have floated one more alternative to DACA: the RAISE Act, which, according to McClatchy, would offer DACA status as a bargaining chip exchanged for a border wall. Essentially, the proposal is to offer a continuation of DACA protections if Congress passes legislation funding Trump’s elusive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

This jumble of proposals and possibilities makes one thing clear: changes are on their way, though they have yet to be concretely determined. On this note, Hunter encourages students to remain open-minded and vigilant.

“Listen to your opponents,” she advised, “Listen to their arguments. Listen to their rationale. Listen to their arguments and use the tools that you know can be a greater reflection of the truth.”