President Donald Trump’s decision Sept. 5 to formally rescind DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy – drew criticism and concern from Catholic higher education officials in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as well as across the country.
Catholic academic leaders were quick to criticize Trump’s decision, noting it could lead to the breaking up of families and communities.
“Those enrolled in the DACA program are here to study, to work, and to help build our country as they build their own futures,” read a Sept. 5 statement from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. “We express our profound hope that the DACA-enrolled students at our Catholic colleges and universities are able to continue their studies without interruption and that others in their situation will be welcomed to contribute their talents to our campuses.”
The ACCU also called on Congress “to protect our vulnerable undocumented students.”
DACA has its roots in the oft-proposed, but never passed, bipartisan DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), that was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Because DACA covers the same group of undocumented minors the DREAM Act was meant to cover, DACA’s beneficiaries are often called “Dreamers.”
Through executive order, President Barack Obama in 2012 created DACA, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, as well as make them eligible for a work permit. Trump’s decision to nix the program has been delayed by six months to give Congress time to come up with a solution for those affected by DACA.
In a Sept. 5 email sent to the Loyola Marymount University community in Los Angeles, President Timothy L. Snyder expressed his disagreement with the president’s decision.
“Though there is fear, anxiety, and uncertainty within our community, our core values and commitments remain unchanged: LMU stands unequivocally in support of all our students,” Snyder wrote. “We renew our resolve to protect our undocumented students to the fullest extent of the law.”
Snyder noted he had addressed the issue before, in an April letter titled “We Stand for Our Students,” and would continue “to advocate that our elected leaders and Congress address, swiftly and permanently, solutions that restore, preserve, and extend pathways for our Dreamers.”
He also wrote that he saw DACA as a plus for Loyola Marymount as well as the nation.
“Dreamers on our campus have been and are exemplary scholars and leaders,” he wrote. “Thanks to DACA, these students and alumni have pursued opportunities in business, education, tech, and nonprofit sectors. They contribute actively to our communities, and they strengthen our economy. They represent what is best about America, and they are essential to our future.”
On Sept. 6, Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles released a statement expressing dismay over Trump’s decision.
“We consider the decision to be, in the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and our Archbishop José H. Gomez, ‘reprehensible,’” the university said.
As an institution of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the statement added “we are called to serve ‘all persons without distinction,’” adding: “We are proud to be a Hispanic-serving institution where more than half of our students are the first in their families to attend college. We treasure the contributions that our Latina students make, and we celebrate the diversity, creativity and determination of our student body.”
University President Ann McElaney-Johnson stated: “No matter what happens at the national level, we are committed to providing an opportunity for all of our students to realize their dreams — as we continue to make diversity, equity and inclusion foundational elements at Mount Saint Mary’s University.”
The university also stated it would provide “immigration-related resources on campus and online through our Student Affairs and Campus Ministry teams, as well as our Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Many of these resources have been made available thanks to the assistance of our community partner at the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Michael F. McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County, noted that DACA was never on firm legal ground. Like other academic leaders, he called on Congress to address the issues DACA was meant to address.
“We have doubts about the constitutionality of President Obama’s executive order, which was meant to protect the ‘dreamers,’” he said. “A number of states were poised to challenge the order in court with a chance that the order could be suspended without warning by judicial decision.”
McLean added that, “it is far better for the country, and for the ‘dreamers’ themselves, for Congress to pass legislation protecting them which is constitutional, permanent, and not subject to legal challenge. Members of Congress must put aside partisanship on this issue and work together for the sake of the ‘dreamers’ and the common good.”
Standing with students
DACA has been on the radar of Catholic higher education leaders for some time. Last November, more than 120 presidents of universities and colleges in the ACCU – of which McElaney-Johnson is a board member -- signed a pledge to support DACA students as well as other undocumented students.
“Many of us count among our students young men and women who are undocumented, their families having fled violence and instability,” the statement read, adding: “We, the undersigned presidents of Catholic colleges and universities, express hope that the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses."
In May, scores of Catholic university and college leaders also signed a letter to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking that DACA students be protected.
“We are deeply concerned about the futures of our undocumented students,” the statement read. “Last November, presidents of Catholic colleges and universities made a pledge in support of DACA and our undocumented students. We remain committed to supporting our students as they face legal and financial uncertainties.”
For more information on the ACCU’s stances, visit accunet.org.
Rob Cullivan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for Catholic News Service and other religious and secular publications.