The heads of California’s three systems of higher education have sent an unusual joint letter to President-elect Donald Trump, asking that he retain the temporary protection from deportation that the Obama administration has given to about 750,000 young, undocumented immigrants nationwide.
Those so-called Dreamers “should be able to pursue their dream of higher education without fear of being arrested, deported or rounded up for just trying to learn,” said the joint letter released publicly Tuesday by University of California president Janet Napolitano, California State University chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges chancellor-designate Eloy Ortiz Oakley.
Together, their three systems are thought to enroll an estimated 74,000 undocumented students. Many of them have received the protection under the 2012 executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which covers some immigrants brought to this country as babies and youngsters up to age 16. During the election campaign, Trump said he would revoke DACA, although he has not addressed the issue more recently. He can make the change without Congressional approval.
The issue has special resonance for Napolitano, who was U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security at the time DACA was issued; she was deeply involved in its development.
“These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation, in all but in the letter of the law. Some never even spoke the language of their native land. They do not represent a public safety threat,” said the letter from UC, CSU and community college leaders.
Among other things, DACA provides recipients permits to work legally in the country, a significant advantage for college students trying to pay their education bills and plan for careers after graduation. That issue and the fear of deportation have triggered anti-Trump protests at some California campuses.
Addressed to Trump at Trump Tower in New York, the joint letter urged the president-elect to continue DACA and “allow these young people to continue to pursue a college education and contribute to their communities and the nation.”
It continues: “DACA is rooted in the fundamental premise that no one should be punished for the actions of others. In order to be eligible for DACA, an individual must have been brought to this country as a minor, stayed out of trouble and continued to pursue an education. These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation, in all but in the letter of the law. Some never even spoke the language of their native land. They do not represent a public safety threat. In fact, they represent some of the best our nation has to offer.”
DACA should be maintained while the new administration and Congress tackle a broader discussion of immigration policy, according to the three California education officials. “There will be time for a vigorous debate and dialogue around immigration reform in the days ahead, and we look forward to engaging with you in a healthy and constructive conversation on this important issue,” they wrote.
The letter comes as undocumented students at California’s colleges and universities are expressing fear of DACA’s possible revocation but also relief that campuses here pledge to maintain the generous benefits offered to them. In contrast to more politically conservative states, California’s public higher education systems grant in-state tuition discounts and financial aid to undocumented students and are looking at ways to boost such help if DACA is ended and students lose their work permits.