Deferred action on DACA deepens immigration controversy

by Zabdi Salazar & Josephine Van Houten

A month since the Trump Administration announced the imminent elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), San Antonio activists and Trinity University students on all sides of the issue have mobilized. DACA, an executive order by the Obama Administration, granted temporary relief from deportation to some children of undocumented immigrants. President Trump encouraged Congress to find a solution for the status of 800,000 dreamers before the program officially expires in six months.  

The Trump administration’s approach to DACA has been contentious. Many conservative Trinity students argue that the president should have simply rescinded the program without a delay because it is unconstitutional and exacerbates illegal migration. Other conservatives argue that a legislative fix of DACA may benefit the GOP in the long-run. Progressive students defend the constitutionality of DACA and have argued that its repeal is a politicized act favoring Trump’s anti-immigrant constituents. “The action is nothing more than a reckless and self-interested act that places the livelihood of countless Dreamers in danger,” said Cathy Walters, co-president of Trinity progressives.

The GOP recently proposed the Succeed Act, a policy similar to the Dream Act in some ways but with stricter enforcement provisions. These provisions include waiting 15 years to apply for citizenship and regulations over preventing chain migration. Chain migration is the process of immigrants attaining legal status through the sponsorship of a related U.S. citizen or legal resident. Political science professor Dr. Allen Burke  explained that a bipartisan compromise would necessitate stricter border security measures to pass an act granting legal status. The role of compromise is also uncertain as Democrats and Republicans share different views on what should be on the negotiating table. For example, The New York Times reported that one of the greatest challenges for democrats to pass legislation may be uncompromising dreamers and activists, as many refuse additional border security.

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Attorney generals from several red states prepared to sue the Trump administration if it did not rescind the program. Because Attorney Jeff Sessions refused to defend the policy in court, the administration preemptively announced its decision to rescind the policy. Texas, home to 124,300 DACA recipients, was one state that planned to sue the Trump administration if the policy was not rescinded. On the other hand, California – the state with the largest number of DACA recipients – has sued the Trump administration as a result of its decision to rescind DACA. 

Texas has implemented stringent measures on sanctuary cities through Senate Bill 4, but  some of its measures have been blocked by the courts. San Antonio has a predominantly Latino population and close proximity to the U.S.- Mexico border. High schools and universities host a substantial number of DACA recipients. In Bexar County alone, there are around 15,000 DACA recipients. Considering that many of these recipients are also students, college campuses are sites of activism and dialogue. The Contemporary investigated the effects of rescinding DACA on Trinity University students, weighed the competing legal and practical issues, and addressed the diverse range of campus dialogue.

Students and Faculty React

The exact number of DACA recipient students at Trinity University is unknown because immigration status is confidential. Trinity’s President, Danny Anderson, issued a statement supporting legislation protecting DACA recipients. Dr. Michael Soto, Associate Vice President for Student Academic Issues & Retention, agreed with President Anderson’s statement and expanded the critique. “It puts things in the wrong order. It doesn’t make sense to end DACA until comprehensive immigration reform is in place, because it creates unnecessary havoc in the lives of the people protected by the DACA program,” Soto said. He also mentioned that dreamers are not eligible for federal financial aid, making it more difficult to attend a private university like Trinity.

Student activism at Trinity has coalesced around immigration.

Over the past month, student organizations such as IHCI (International Humanitarian Crisis Initiative) and TDC (Trinity Diversity Connection) have rallied students to contact their representatives over DACA and other immigration issues. Multiple of student organizations hosted a teach-in over SB4 and a DACA dialogue. A few weeks ago, the Trinity debate team and The Contemporary hosted a public debate between the two political groups on campus over charting a new course on immigration. DACA students in colleges around San Antonio have also mobilized and voiced their opinions.

The Contemporary spoke with Andrea Ramos, a UTSA DACA recipient student who is majoring in Public Policy. As the leader of UTSA’s Immigrant Youth Leadership, she notes that there are approximately 1,000 DACA recipient students on campus. She founded this organization to give a voice to the immigrant community on campus.“I feel so privileged to be able to speak for my community, because not many people have the opportunity to do so,” she stated. Ramos briefly shared her story of coming to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents at the age of nine. She enrolled into the DACA program in 2012, allowing her to enroll in college. Ramos is not worried about the legal status of her parents, unlike many other DACA recipients, since her grandmother is a U.S. citizen. However, she is worried about her own legal status as it will affect whether she graduates next year.  

Ramos addressed some misconceptions that Americans have of DACA. “There is a belief that I am here to take away opportunities from Americans, which is sad to be honest, because I am here to provide opportunities for my community,” she said. She also argues that such misconceptions has caused fear in the DACA community. “I have been called a freeloader way too much this month. But people can’t say I’m a freeloader because I have had to work twice as hard to get half of the opportunities that my peers have gotten. All of my achievements have been of my own doing and no one can take that away from me,” she said. Ramos is grateful for the work of organizations such as RAICES and MOVE SA that provide information forums and distribute resources for DACA recipients. However, she explained that there is still not enough money, resources, or information to help all DACA recipients in the state.

Ramos also shared her aspirations in running for public office in the future as a way to give back to her community. “It would be my dream to run for office, here in the city of San Antonio. I want to prove that no matter what kind of background you have, you can end up doing what you want.” She seeks to give a voice to the low income and immigrant communities, as she is astounded by the lack of information and resources available to these communities. In the meantime however, she is dedicated to her studies and increasing awareness about the challenges facing immigrants and DACA students.

The phase-out of DACA has affected the larger Latinx community at Trinity. Samsara Davalos, president of Trinity Diversity Connection, has family members who are DACA recipients. “As a daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico who is privileged enough to have citizenship and attend Trinity, I feel it is my duty to advocate for those who may not be able to do so. I was heart broken because with the elimination of the slight protection that DACA offered, these populations were once again left vulnerable and voiceless,” she said. Davalos organized an information panel with professor’s on the issue and a series of phone banking booths for students to call their representatives.

Jennifer Ochoa, president of Trinity University Latino Association (TULA), helped organize the DACA dialogue to educate others on how the policy affects immigrant communities. “For many undocumented Latinx individuals, the decision to rescind DACA invokes fear. Many DACA individuals have become immersed in the U.S. culture and cannot recall their place of birth nor speak the native language,” she said. Ochoa also explained that the DACA dialogue was meant to voice the concerns of all immigrants and to help students and faculty share their own experiences and facts about the immigration system.  

Emma McMahan, a first-year conservative student and member of Tigers for Liberty, enjoyed the discussions on the teach-in on SB4 and the DACA dialogue. McMahan stated that while there were more liberal perspectives on the issue, conservatives also had room to share their opinions.  “I firmly believe that it’s not fair that these kids came here only because their parents brought them here. However, if the U.S. continues to allow amnesty to dreamers in their immigration policy, then it would encourage more illegal immigration,” she said.

Isaiah Mitchell, a sophomore conservative student and co-president of Tigers for Liberty, further critiqued the discussions, arguing how they tend to showcase all dreamers exclusively in a positive light. Mitchell also highlights the nefarious political interests of DACA at play. “The only groups that DACA benefits are the illegal aliens who have broken the law and the Democratic politicians who took a gamble that their votes will matter more than legal citizens’. DACA’s poster children always seem to follow the criteria of bright-eyed, innocent kids who have never known their native country and seek opportunity here,” he said. Mitchell argues that there should be stricter criteria for admitting potential immigrants, but also notes that there is a wide range of disagreement on the issue among Trinity conservatives.

International students at Trinity have also voiced their concerns. Daniela Montúfar, president of IHCI and an international student, expressed how she is worried about unjust discrimination after rescinding DACA. “On DACA, we fear we might be subject to unfair treatment by authorities just because of the way we look…there’s still certain anxiety towards the treatment we might receive from local police officers.” Montúfar and other IHCI members have also collaborated closely with RAICES, a refugee and immigrant center to raise awareness on how DACA affects the immigrant community. They have coordinated DACA renewal clinics, information tables, and DACA renewal information packets.

Chiara Pride, a sophomore at Trinity and MOVE SA intern, has a friend who is a DACA recipient. Pride expressed that her friend’s story has motivated her to engage in politics in her community. Pride helped organize the teach-in on SB4 and the DACA dialogue. She commented that the purpose of the teach-in was “to show solidarity and to extend information at the level that we have to our students.” She emphasized that the event was not meant to cover all aspects of immigration, addressing allegations from the opinions expressed by a conservative student who thought the dialogue was one-sided as he mentioned that it was hosted by “a number of far-left organizations.” Pride also shared her concerns over the divergence of political thought on campus. “There’s a real lack of understanding between political groups on campus…we are just having a separate kind of schools of thought,” she said. Tension between political groups on campus have flared, as seen with diverse opinions of what the teach-in should cover on immigration.      

The Contemporary and the debate team partnered for a debate on immigration between the two political groups on campus. Walters, co-President of Trinity progressives, and Travis Boyd argued for a comprehensive path to citizenship as well as expanding work visas. On the other side, Mitchell, co-President of Tigers for Liberty and Maddie D’Iorio called for increased visa restrictions and border security. Cristian Vargas, a student who attended the debate thought that “it was a great way to combat the echo-chamber that tends to form around partisan lines… because it got people from each side of the political aisle to show up and listen to the arguments advanced by each side.”

The debate also clarified misconceptions of political groups on campus. Mitchell, who argued that DACA was unconstitutional stated that “a left-leaning student might say that the Republican Party is sacrificing lives for votes…I call that a misconception because it is the explicit purpose of our government, among other things, to protect its citizens and borders.” Vargas defends DACA on moral grounds. He asserted that the right often conflates the fate of Dreamers with comprehensive immigration reform. He argued that “the right often paints the left as desiring ‘amnesty for illegals.’ DACA is by no means anything close to comprehensive immigration reform, and only does anything for a small sliver of the total immigrant population.What it does do is also nothing close to amnesty.”

Other students who attended the debate also expressed that the debate challenged many of their original assumptions. Michaela Hoffman, a senior and an editor for the Trinitonian, described how she “really enjoyed attending the debate because it was civil discourse about a complex topic. I think that it made me think more about the nuances of having a border that is insecure, but also about how there is a lack of solutions provided for increasing the ease of immigrants to come into the country.” Thus, civil discourse and debate has increased understanding of the political issues surrounding DACA.

Tigers for Liberty hosted a dialogue with George Rodriguez, a former Reagan and Bush White House appointee who worked on the immigration reform act of 1986.

Legal and Practical Concerns

Exploring the competing constitutional and legal issues surrounding DACA is also critical to understanding this topic. Political science professors Dr. Crockett, Dr. Burke, and Dr. Allen shared similar views on this question. Crockett’s concerns focused on the separation of powers critical to our republican form of government as one cannot just do what they want because it’s expedient. “Immigration is a matter of law. The President swears an oath to faithfully execute the law. In my view, when President Obama told numerous groups, early in his presidency that he had no authority on immigration because Congress makes the law, he was telling the truth… It has nothing to do with the wisdom of the program, whether it’s desirable to help out individuals who fall in these categories,” Crockett said.

Crockett argued that executive authority has been gradually expanding since the Nixon administration. Burke expressed a similar view. “Presidents do have executive power, [but] the question is, is there too much policy being created through executive order?,” Burke said. He elaborated that an extensive use of such  powers creates a “slippery slope” because it sidesteps a democratic process. Unfortunately, with a deadlocked Supreme Court at 4-4, the question did not get resolved and DACA remained in effect. However, because DACA was an executive order and not law, it is not an issue that Trump has now repealed it.

Allen, a professor of constitutional law, pointed out that  DACA recipients are denied due process of law by the Trump administration’s actions. “Under the 5th amendment due process, we have all of these people sign up for DACA, 800,000, and they gave their names and addresses, identification numbers, social security, and there’s a worry that the government is going to use that to find people and deport them. That’s probably illegal…Under the 5th amendment, your life, liberty, and property can’t be taken away without due process of law,” he contended. Allen also addressed that Trump’s approach on passing the issue to Congress is correct under a constitutional lense because Congress under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 has authority to legislate a proposal for DACA recipients. At the same time, the six month deadline may cause problems. “In a legal sense, it’s good, from a practical standpoint, since so many people are going to be affected before that 6 months period passes, you are going to have a disproportionate effect,” he said.

Other professors at Trinity further critique the practicalities of rescinding DACA. “Holding the lives and livelihoods of 800,000 people and their families in the balance as an inducement to action by this Congress is reckless,” said Dr. Alfred Montoya, assistant professor of anthropology. The deadline for renewal of the two year work permit passed on Oct. 5th. This deadline existed for all DACA recipients whose work permit expired before March 5th: about 36,000 people have not reapplied. As a result, they are at risk of deportation for lack of legal status until Congress can pass legislation in the next five months.

Through this discussion with professors at Trinity, the conservatives on campus have substantial arguments in their favor over DACA’s breach of executive power. However, Cathy Walters from Trinity Progressives had also noted how DACA may be constitutional by quoting attorney Michael Tran from the American Civil Liberties Union. Tran argues that DACA is constitutional under the Faithful Execution Clause considering the “extensive history in granting deferred action to immigrants in special circumstances.” Walters argues that only the Court, not the President has authority to decide when there’s been a breach of executive authority.

At the same time, all three professors agree about the danger of expanded executive power. “Personally, I think executive orders are dangerous. A lot of times they are used to circumvent proper ways of legislation… it can set negative precedents,”Allen argued. Crockett likewise mentioned how DACA has also brought to light the issue of just how much power Americans want to grant their President considering that their political affiliations change over time. Still, Allen emphasizes that a balance is critical because of its practical effects: “The executive order is interesting, but is secondary to the question on how much it affects people.”

The elimination of DACA has brought a spotlight on immigration. “It has mobilized millions of people to support immigration reform. It has turn up the heat on Congress,” Soto said. Similarly, Crockett stated how the mobilization of college students, and the possibility of Trinity students reaching out to their representatives in mass, could place an interesting pressure on Congress. “Rather than focus one’s energy on attacking the president as racist, it might be better to simply say, okay, he passed this to Congress, it’s time to pressure members of Congress to do the right thing and pass a law that is sensible,” he said.

Regarding the diversity of political dialogue at Trinity and the array of thoughts on DACA, President Anderson continues to assert that we must have difficult conversations.“While America is split among polarized opinions about many topics, Trinity remains united in the commitment to promote genuine dialogue and critical thinking,” he said. Although the repeal of DACA represents a complicated issue of immigration from a legal, moral, and practical perspective, the Trinity community has embraced debate on all these issues. Still, while many debate the constitutionality of the administration’s act, at the practical level others directly experience the act’s effects. Some chastise the administration’s recklessness and political pandering while others remain optimistic about future immigration reform. But for those directly affected, uncertainty has dominated their lives, and only time will disclose their fate.

Zabdi Salazar is a sophomore Political Science and Business Administration major, as well as the Director of Business operations for The Contemporary. Email Zabdi:

Josephine Van Houten is a sophomore International Studies and Computer Science double major, and Managing Editor of The Contemporary.  She is the PR chair of the International Humanitarian Crisis Initiative, and in her free time she enjoys dancing and traveling.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

The photo above depicts protests against the elimination of DACA in New York City on September 9, 2017. The photo was taken by Rhododendrites and is uner a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

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