Catholic college leaders reach out to DACA students in uncertain times


By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic college leaders who have protested
the Trump administration’s plan to do away with the Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, also have heightened their resolve to do
more for DACA students and have expressed cautious belief that federal
legislation to give these students more permanent help could be at hand.

this is the moment” where something will happen, said Donna Carroll,
president of Dominican University just outside of Chicago, the day after President
Donald Trump discussed a potential DACA deal at the White House Sept. 13 with
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader
Charles Schumer, D-New York.

private discussion was downplayed by Trump on Twitter, who said: “No deal
was made last night on DACA,” about the meeting with Democrat leaders but just
a day later he confirmed something could be in the works, telling reporters:
“We’re working on a plan for DACA.”

DACA, instituted
by President Barack Obama in 2012, allows some 800,000 young people brought to
the United States illegally as children to stay in the country and work or go
to school with a temporary reprieve from deportation — providing they meet
certain criteria. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the
program would end in six months if Congress did not pass legislation to make
the program permanent.

Dominican’s president for 24 years and a longtime advocate for immigration
reform, takes a long view of DACA and the Development, Relief and Education for
Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which was introduced in 2001 and has repeatedly failed to
pass. The measure would offer the chance of permanent legal residency to those who arrived in this country illegally as children.

changes with every narrative every day,” Carroll cautioned the 100 DACA
students who attend Dominican University in a letter she wrote to them after the
Sept. 5 announcement that DACA was ending.

her outrage at the decision, she told students that she hopes the broad negative
reaction to it could provide impetus for the Dream Act to pass.

who also issued a statement as did many Catholic college presidents opposing
the decision to rescind DACA, told Catholic News Service that her letter to the students
was important to “give them a sense of certainty and support” in this
time of such uncertainty.

said the DACA students on campus are obviously anxious, but they also are
resilient and pushing forward, and she urged them to continue that spirit and to
“hunker down and focus on their academic progress.”

In the
meantime, the university, like other Catholic colleges and universities around
the country with DACA recipients, has continued or even upped its assistance to
these students with financial, legal and spiritual resources for them as their
future lies in the balance.

McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, said she spoke to the 100
DACA students, or “Dreamers,” at her school after the announcement that the program
was ending and they were “extremely stressed out” and particularly
worried for their families because their work permits are often the sole source
of family income.

worry about what will happen if they lose their ability to work or to have a
driver’s license, she said.

assured students they would continue to receive scholarships from the
university and she also said the university was adding group support sessions
and extending them to include the families of “Dreamer” students.

university alumnae have been in touch with the school wondering how they can
help these students, McGuire urges them to get in touch with their
representatives in Congress and push for passage of the Dream Act.

McElaney-Johnson, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles, said
she absolutely has called her representative and would continue to do so —

She is impressed
that Catholic university presidents and the U.S. bishops have been vocal in
their support of DACA. “We really stand, as a Catholic Church and Catholic
universities, together on this,” she said, adding: “We are standing
with these students and we will do everything we can to see that their futures
are secure.”

McElaney-Johnson said the mood on campus is mixed among DACA students who feel stressed
for themselves and their families but who also have “a certain resolve to do
everything they can to stand up for their rights.”

“The students feel this, but
everyone else feels it too,” she told CNS. “There is a strong sense of resolve that we have to
take care of these students and make our voices heard.”

up for DACA students has been the rallying cry of Trinity’s McGuire, who told
Catholic higher education leaders during a Sept. 5 presentation at the
University of Notre Dame to boldly defend them.

ever there was a time for Catholic higher education to act on its deepest
values, to stand in solidarity with the poor and disposed of this earth, the
time is now,” she said, urging the college presidents and administrators to
“be on the right side of history and social justice.”

also reached out to the broader higher education community in a Sept. 8 column for
Inside Higher Ed, an online website, stressing that higher education should
“consider doing something we rarely do — join forces across industries
and social organizations to let Congress know how wide and deep the demand is
to provide an effective legal remedy for Dreamers.”

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Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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