Dear University of Oregon colleagues,
Next week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This is important to the University of Oregon because for students on our campus, and at other universities across the country, DACA helps provide a path to higher education and a better life.
In this Open Mike I will focus on DACA and not the broader set of issues concerning undocumented immigrants. Nevertheless, it doesn’t escape me that much of the current controversy swirling around DACA would not exist if Congress and the president could agree upon comprehensive immigration reform, something that appears out of reach for the time being.
Access to opportunity and fidelity to our nation’s ideals are ultimately what are both at stake next week, when the Trump administration squares off against the state of California and other plaintiffs seeking to reverse decisions of several appellate courts that blocked the government’s attempts to repeal the DACA program. The UO has signed on to amicus briefs supporting the continuation of DACA, which is important to the UO, higher education and, I believe, our nation.
Simply put, it would be wrong and negatively impact our country to uproot a person’s life based on whether they, as a child, entered our nation either legally or illegally under federal law. Today, thousands of DACA recipients are now working as professionals and are contributing billions of dollars to our economy. Rather than seeking to deport them, in my view, we should provide these Dreamers with a clear path to citizenship and ensure that they have access to the resources that will help them continue to achieve the American Dream, including access to public higher education. Our nation’s ideals and values demand that we should provide the same opportunity to today’s Dreamers that was afforded to countless generations of immigrants before them, including all four of my grandparents.
DACA was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 to allow qualifying undocumented individuals who satisfied a set of criteria to receive renewable two-year periods of deferred action from deportation and to apply for temporary work permits. Prior to DACA, these young people lived under constant fear of being deported back to countries with which they may have had little connection or memory. Many had no hope of going to college, since they would have been ineligible for state aid, unable to obtain loans, and barred from seeking lawful employment.
DACA provides a lifeline of hope. Although accurate data is hard to come by, an estimated 120,000 DACA recipients have attended or are currently enrolled in American universities, including some at the UO. Thanks to legislation adopted by Oregon and several other states, many of those DACA students have been able to take advantage of in-state tuition at public universities. Some financed their education with private loans and many worked and continue to work part time or full time to afford tuition, room, and board. Many DACA students have thrived on our campus, taken leadership roles in campus groups, and graduated with honors. The program’s continuity has led many who otherwise would not have received degrees to complete their educations. These are people who put that education to work by enriching the civic, social, and economic fabric of their communities.
The Supreme Court will rule by June 2020 on the legal merits of the government’s position that it has the discretion to end the program. As I already noted, the UO has signed on to amicus briefs through a number of organizations of which we are a member, including the Association of American Universities, the American Council of Education, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
The justice of letting DACA recipients remain in the U.S. seems pretty clear to me. But I am aware that not everyone shares my intuitions about what is right or wrong. Nor should they. So, let’s examine the question from a more consequential perspective. Would we (the United States of America) be better off deporting DACA recipients or letting them remain here? The United States is experiencing an aging population. Increasingly, immigration will be important in providing us with the workforce we need to fuel the economy. We have already invested tremendous resources in educating these young men and women in our K-12 school systems. In addition, many have already gone on to higher education, a number of whom have received advanced degrees. Would requiring DACA recipients to leave the United States truly serve our nation’s best interest? I think not.
I’ve already noted that my grandparents—both maternal and paternal—came to America to escape anti-Semitic persecution and to pursue economic opportunity. I admit I am biased, but I believe immigrants immeasurably strengthen our nation. They choose to become part of our polity, often at great cost and risk to their safety and security. Immigrants provide our nation with the talent that fuels its global competitiveness. It is no accident that many of our greatest inventors and theorists have come to us from other nations. Indeed, today, the graduate students who study in our laboratories and work with our faculty to make scientific discoveries often come from abroad. And, the economically impoverished who cross our borders often contribute in manifold ways to our economy by doing needed work and by anchoring our communities.
DACA students are part of a long line of people who have migrated to, strengthened, and enriched our nation. There can be no doubt that the United States needs comprehensive immigration reform that regulates the flow of people into the nation and that makes it easier to secure our borders. That will require bipartisan, thoughtful debate. But to uproot these young people, deny them educational opportunity, and deport them violates principles of fairness and economic self-interest. It betrays the essence of our national identity and ideals.
At the UO, we will continue to support our DACA and Dreamer students by lending our name to the Supreme Court litigation, by not cooperating with efforts by federal authorities to deport students, by supporting our Dreamers Working Group and their efforts to build allies for these students, and by providing advice, services, and, where possible, financial assistance to help them achieve their dreams. It is the right thing to do. I am hopeful that the courts will continue to let this important program serve as a lifeline of hope to a group of Dreamers who know no other home than the United States and deserve access to the same opportunities as their peers.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law
President and Professor of Law