I was deeply disappointed to learn this morning of the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program with six months notice for those currently enrolled, and immediately for those who are not. I have written before to the campus community of my own strong views on this issue, and on the university’s official position supporting the continuation of the DACA program. Although the president claimed that Congress should take up this issue, he offered no proposal or expression of support for such legislation.
I find today’s action appalling on its own terms. As a result of the repeal of DACA, parents may be separated from each other and their young children, and siblings from each other as well. Those who were brought to this country as a child are threatened with deportation to countries that they did not grow up in, may have no relationships in, and may not even speak the language. This ought to be unacceptable to all.
What strikes me as truly unfathomable is the timing of this decision, and its particular impact on Houston at a time of great distress. Houston has the third largest population of foreign born residents in the United States and has accepted more refugees than any other city. The state of Texas has the second largest number of DACA-eligible individuals in the country, and the same is true as a county for our location, Harris County. At the time of a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, we are reminded that we are, indeed, “all in one boat.” Those suffering in our city include many immigrants who, whether eligible for DACA or not, were brought to the country as children.
When I met last year with members of HACER, our Hispanic student organization, I was struck by the fact that although no member of the small group was a DACA student, every student I met with had a close relative who was either DACA-qualified or in a similar position. I met also with one of our graduate DACA students, studying to be a scientist and educator, who was forced to travel to his undergraduate college by bus because he could not board an airplane. And although he was an immigrant brought here at a young age, his siblings were not.
Last fall, when we announced an extension of financial aid support to DACA students, we included those who had DACA-like qualifications, but were not formally part of the DACA program. Unless compelled otherwise by law, we will continue to extend Rice financial aid and other benefits to our DACA students, and indicate in our programs and practices that such students are clearly welcome members of the Rice community. We will take whatever action is permissible under law to avoid increasing the risk that such students are deported or otherwise have their immigration status challenged. We will advocate with our Congress-members to quickly pass legislation extending DACA, and work with organizations we are members of to exercise our collective voice and influence in this regard. You can help, if you so choose, by also making your views known to your political representatives.
Our primary mission is the education of people to help them realize their ambitions and potential, and to make the greatest contribution they can to our city, country and world. We seek to extend that mission to all highly talented students, regardless of national origin. These values will continue to guide us as we seek to support DACA and other resident immigrant students during these difficult times.
David W. Leebron
President, Rice University