Defending the rights of migrants is one of the most pressing social issues of our times and one that Pope Francis has made clear should be at the center of our faith practice. Jesuit colleges and universities have a responsibility to not only meet the needs of undocumented students, but to set an example of what it means to live out our faith in higher education. Since the establishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program ten years ago, the University of San Francisco (USF) has strengthened its support and defense of our undocumented students.
Support Services for Undocumented Students
At USF, the Working Group to Support Undocumented Students is housed in the Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) Office. The group, comprised of students, staff and faculty from across campus, sponsors Undocu-Ally Trainings for faculty and staff; plans events related to undocumented student issues and immigrant rights; and serves as a point of connection around undocumented student issues. This group also administers the Magis Fellowship, a university fellowship that selects a small number of undergraduate and graduate students to develop innovative projects that address specific barriers and challenges faced by undocumented students. There are also initiatives across campus that seek to support undocumented students at USF, including the Undocumented Student Scholarship in the School of Education. These initiatives seek to raise awareness and provide solidarity with members of the USF community who are undocumented, connecting our Jesuit mission with an agenda that advances immigrant rights.
A cornerstone of this work is the ways in which students stand in solidarity with one another. The creation of the Magis Fellowship for undergraduate students was a student-led initiative led by the campus’ LUNA club (Latinx Undergrad Network of Activists). This fellowship was established through funds collected from student fees and granted by the Associated Students of the University of San Francisco (ASUSF) Senate. Undocumented undergraduate students in the fellowship have created a student organization called UMAP (Undocumented Migrant Association Program) and undocumented graduate students founded a student organization called Dismantling Walls. Dismantling Walls supports undocumented undergraduates and graduate students at USF by fundraising to increase access to scholarships for undocumented students, and focuses on changing the dialogue regarding the needs of the undocumented students on campus. There are also informal networks of support, community and advocacy that are a lifeline for undocumented students on campus.
DACA: Then and Now
The history of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is complicated. In 2010, Congress came within a few votes short of passing the DREAM Act, leaving DREAMers and their allies extremely disappointed. Finally in 2012, former President Barack Obama announced that DREAMers would be granted deferred action and employment authorization for at least two years, with the possibility of renewals. Under the directive, deferred action could be granted on a case-by-case basis to individuals who met the following criteria: they came to the United States when they were younger than 16; had continuously resided in the United States for at least five years; and were in school, had graduated from high school, had obtained a GED or were honorably discharged veterans of the armed forces. Eventually, about 800,000 individuals applied for and received benefit of the DACA program.
Almost ten years later, a coalition of nine states challenged the legality of DACA and prevailed. In 2021, a federal judge ruled that the creation and implementation of DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and that DACA was inconsistent with federal law. The Biden Administration appealed the decision, but the appellate court agreed with the judge. However, because the Biden Administration has promulgated a new DACA rule, the appeals court sent the matter back to a federal judge to consider the new version of DACA. In the meantime, 600,000 DACA holders can continue to work and obtain extensions, but no new applications are being accepted.
The legality of DACA is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in the next two years. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is expected to agree that the President does not have the authority to grant at least the employment authorization part of DACA. Since the Supreme Court’s composition has changed, a decision on DACA will likely result in a 6-3 decision against the program.
What this means is that if DACA is terminated by the Supreme Court, as is expected, the President likely still has the power to refrain from deporting DACA recipients, but their employment authorization will no longer be renewable. Given that scenario, DACA recipients and all DREAMers need the DREAM Act to be passed by Congress, which they are hoping will happen in the current lame duck session. The DREAM Act would provide a legalization program for DREAMers that includes a pathway toward U.S. citizenship.
DREAMers and other immigrant rights advocates are working urgently on the passage of the DREAM Act today. At USF, the School of Law’s Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic is working with businesses across the country to make their support of the DREAM Act widely known, as well as assisting with DACA extension assistance and immigration counseling.
While we have built some important programs and practices at USF, we need to do more. We need to continue to listen to and document the experiences of our undocumented undergraduate and graduate students; envision and enact meaningful programming and processes to support their success; and prioritize resources to support migrants.
Mario Gonzalez is the Assignments Coordinator in USF’s Office of Student Housing, Division of Student Life, and a member of the Working Group to Support Undocumented Students at USF. Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is an Associate Professor in the School of Education, and a member of the Working Group to Support Undocumented Students at USF. Bill Ong Hing is a Professor in USF’s School of Law, and serves as Director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic.
By Mario Gonzalez, Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales & Bill Ong Hing, University of San Francisco