By Chariti Niccole
Hide and seek, a favorite childhood game, is not so much fun anymore if you are an immigrant student.
College students all over this country who are not U.S. citizens must hide in fear of being deported back to their “country of origin” because of President Trump’s militant stance on immigration. Problem is, many of these students have zero recollection of their “country of origin.”
Students that were illegally brought to the U.S. as minors, called Dreamers by President Obama, are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. With this 2012 executive order, Dreamers were given written confirmation that they would not be targeted by law enforcement as long as they were in school, the military or working, and avoided criminal behavior.
With Trump’s repeated promise to overturn Obama’s DACA program during his campaign, his election escalated fear in the immigrant community. If Trump repeals DACA more than 750,000 students would have to abruptly end their educations. Thousands of undocumented students and their supporters have demonstrated on college campuses throughout the U.S., insisting that schools become sanctuaries.
Trump’s hostile campaign rhetoric and propaganda bombarded Americans with falsehoods about vile Mexican immigrants raping, stealing and smuggling their way from sea to shining sea.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said when he announced his candidacy. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapist. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Since being elected, Trump has publicly switched sides and said he would not overturn the DACA program. Then he said he would. Then he said he would not.
“They (Dreamers) shouldn’t be worried,” he said to ABC news in January. “I do have a big heart.”
And a big mouth, which he can speak out of from both sides. Fortunately, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and House Speaker Paul Ryan have gone on the record saying DACA is alive and well.
Trump’s actions, however, did not match his fellow Republicans’ words. A law abiding Dreamer was deported from Calexico, California in February.
Juan Montes, 23, was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 9. After a day spent with his girlfriend, Montes stopped to get food and was approached by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Unfortunately, Montes had left his wallet in his friend’s car and had no proof of his DACA status on him. Within hours he was back in Mexico, the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status to be deported under the Trump administration.
Even before Trump’s election cities nationwide that wanted to protect their friends, neighbors and co-workers were declaring themselves “sanctuaries.” These cities vowed not to actively assist the federal government with immigration enforcement.
This is nothing radical. Most local law enforcement already have policies not to ask people about citizenship so as not to racially profile or to cause anxiety and mistrust in the community. Most local police want people in their communities to trust them and not be afraid of them. Immigrants who do not trust police do not report crimes.
Sanctuary protection, be it a city or campus, is largely undefined and differs by location. Some believe a sanctuary should protect the undocumented citizens or students from federal deportation at all cost, while others view sanctuaries as a safe haven that allow students and residents to live without constant fear.
Some conservatives question the legality of safe havens. Many Republican lawmakers think it is protecting people who are in the country illegally. Some have drafted laws to prevent colleges and universities from declaring a sanctuary campus by threatening their federal funding and financial aid.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbot brashly tweeted that he would personally prevent sanctuaries.
“Texas will not tolerate sanctuary campuses or cities,” he wrote. “I will cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status.”
With the fear of losing federal funding, many institutions of higher education have been hesitant about taking on the title. Others caved in to the pressure.
Garrey Carruthers, president of New Mexico State University, said banning federal agents from campus might jeopardize its federal funding so the campus will not be a sanctuary. Others have acted with a fearless commitment to serve as a safe space for all students. Portland Community College voted in December to declare itself sanctuary campus in response to the plea from the student body.
Southwestern College and the city of Chula Vista are having it both ways. They are avoiding the politically connotative term “sanctuary” and are instead calling themselves “welcoming” institutions. Bottom line, though, SWC and Chula Vista are on board with protecting undocumented members of the community.
Thousands of SWC students would lose their chance for higher education if the college lost its federal funding, which pays for most financial aid. About two thirds of all American full-time students in 2014-2015 paid for college with some financial aid. At SWC the number is nearly 90 percent.
Even so, colleges must not cower to Trump’s bluster. Higher education stands for freedom, courage, hope, equity and advancement. These are ideals worth fighting for. Colleges that engage in cowardice do not deserve any students or financial support.
Students protected under the DACA program were brought to America by their parents in hopes of a better future. They had no choice and did nothing wrong. Their parents risked everything to bring them to America and give them better then what they had. These kids were raised in America. They attended elementary school, middle school, high school and now college, all in the U.S. They pledged allegiance to the United States. They played football, debated, served in ASB, were cheerleaders, homecoming queens and valedictorians.
Dreamers are solid American kids, insisted Obama.
“I will urge the President Elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before endangering the status of, for practical purposes, American kids,” he said.
SWC is the closest American college to the Mexican border. It has hundreds — even thousands — of students pursuing their education and chasing after dreams under the DACA program. Some are out in the open about it, many are not.
Governing Board Member Roberto Alcantar said SWC will do whatever it needs to do to protect its students.
“Right now is a time for us to stick together, because our students are scared,” he said. “We are a target, our college is a target and our people are a target.”
Standing next to our college brothers and sisters is more important then ever. America is known as the land of opportunity. Immigration and second chances built this country. Men and women tired of the oppressive British monarchy came here for a better life for themselves and their children. Same with people from Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Nigeria, Argentina, The Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Egypt, China, Japan and dozens of other countries. So why single out Mexicans?
Colleges need to be courageous and ethical and stand up for its most vulnerable students. These are productive, educated, law-abiding Americans same as the descendants of Europeans, Africans and Asians.
The DREAM must continue. We all need to do our part to keep it alive.