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Pelton Reaffirms Support for Emerson DACA Students

In a letter to the Emerson community on September 5, President Lee Pelton reaffirmed Emerson College's “commitment to our current undocumented or [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] students,” following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the Trump administration will be ending the DACA program.

“Emerson College has been and will continue to be steadfast in its commitment to all who live, study and work at the College, including undocumented and DACA students,” Pelton wrote. “When we speak of safety, of support and of inclusion, we do not make exceptions.”

President Barack Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 in order to allow certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to study and work without fear of deportation. The program does not provide a path to citizenship, but uses prosecutorial discretion in not targeting for deportation young people who pose no public safety danger. 

Full text of the letter follows:


Dear Emerson Community,

As many of you know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced today that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be rescinded, while urging Congress to replace it with legislation before the program ends on March 5, 2018.

DACA has given 800,000 undocumented immigrants a chance to attend college, work, and build lives in the United States without fear of immediate deportation. In order to register for this program, each individual has satisfied rigorous requirements. They do not pose a threat to national security or public safety. Many are already working and leading productive lives in our communities.

Undoubtedly, today’s news creates uncertainty and enormous anxiety for our DACA students, their families and friends as well as others who do not have required immigration paperwork.

However, the administration's decision to end the DACA program in no way changes Emerson's relationship with or our commitment to our current undocumented or DACA students.

Emerson does not discriminate based on immigration status.  This extends to how we treat individuals in the application process, as students, and in their roles as valued members of our community.

Emerson College has been and will continue to be steadfast in its commitment to all who live, study and work at the College, including undocumented and DACA students.  When we speak of safety, of support and of inclusion, we do not make exceptions.

Recognizing that each of these students may have very different personal circumstances, we have already begun to reach out to each of them and we will, as soon as possible, provide them access to legal support and resources. Additionally, we will continue to honor their privacy. We will collaborate with other institutions of higher learning, organizations and businesses to urge Congress to create a legislative solution before the established deadline as well as demonstrate the effectiveness and efficacy of the DACA program.

As I have written before, “our College vigorously supports opportunities for DACA and other undocumented students to have access to the educational rights, privileges and benefits of all other students. The overwhelming majority of these students grew up in America for much of their lives. They went to American schools and developed deep and enduring friendships in their communities. They have broken no laws and like all other college students, our hope is that they will begin to cultivate at Emerson what Alfred North Whitehead called ‘habitual vision of greatness’ in their education and the contribution that they will make as members of American society. We will not turn our backs on these students and exempt them from full participation in the bounty of the evolving and magnificently diverse democratic experiment we call the United States of America.”

While there have been numerous legislative options on immigration reform during the past decade, and it seems that the majority members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – want protection for current DACA participants, we cannot predict with confidence how Congress will address the end of DACA. Nor do we know how the federal government might prioritize deportation of students and alumni who at some point had DACA status, if Congress fails to pass laws that protect these students from a deportation process.

The most recent groundwork for bi-partisan legislation on DACA is the “BRIDGE” Act – H.R. 496 in the House, sponsored by Reps. Coffman (R-CO) and Gutierrez (D-IL), and S. 128 in the Senate, sponsored by Sens. Graham (R-SC) and Durbin (D-IL). The “Bar Removal of Individuals, who Dream and Grow our Economy” or BRIDGE Act, does NOT grant legal status to DACA recipients. Rather, it allows individuals registered under the DACA program, and others who qualify for DACA status, to maintain work authorization in a new “provisional protected presence” status that would last for three years. (Source: National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, September 5, 2017)

In addition, the DREAM Act has been reintroduced in both sessions of Congress. The DREAM Act would allow individuals brought to the U.S. as children to pursue a higher education, serve in the U.S. military, or work for at least three years to pursue a path to citizenship. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Roybal-Allard (D-CA) sponsored companion legislation, H.R. 3440, in the House, and Sens. Graham (R-SC) and Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 1615 in the Senate.    (Source: National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, September 5, 2017) One avenue open to all of us is to contact our Senators and Representatives encouraging them to quickly pass legislation that provides a permanent and humane option for those that DACA covered.

I am deeply troubled by efforts to undermine one of the great hallmarks of our nation – a country that historically has opened wide its doors to immigrants as a land of opportunity and endless possibilities and as a place to raise a family and contribute to the common good. We are a nation of immigrants who continue to help build this nation and to contribute in every aspect of human endeavor.

I will keep you informed of any new or significant developments in this matter.

Best wishes,

Lee Pelton

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