USUAA passes DACA resolution

USUAA passed a resolution regarding the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program during a meeting on Friday, Sept. 22. This resolution, which passed unanimously, states USUAA’s mission to support those who are part of the program and that they are encouraging Congress “to work to find a fair solution that ensures that all students have access to the full range of opportunities the University of Alaska Anchorage provides.”

USUAA gathered on Friday, Sept. 22 to discuss action in response to the repeal of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

In early September, President Donald Trump announced the end of the DACA program and urged Congress to seek a replacement before phasing out its protections in March 2018. For the estimated 800,000 young adults that have arrived in the United States illegally and qualify for the program, this could mean deportation.

There are a number of requirements that an individual, or “Dreamer,” must meet in order to qualify for its benefits, such as having entered the United States before his or her 16th birthday; currently attending school if not having graduated with a high school diploma; having no felony or significant misdemeanor charges and others.

Nate Graham, USUAA sergeant-at-arms, says that hearing news of the Trump administration’s repeal prompted him to take action.

“We came up with a resolution basically stating who’s going to be impacted, the eligibility requirements for the DACA program, as well as mentioning that ending this program will be detrimental to people’s lives that are a part of our UAA student body,” Graham said. “I took this on because I believe that if you’re going to school and you’re paying for school that you should be able to finish. Ending the DACA program as is right now, students that have been here for a year — there’s a very real possibility that they’ll just not be allowed to attend school anymore and get deported back to a country that they don’t live in or have never really known.”

UA president Jim Johnsen wrote a letter on Sept. 11 addressed to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, voicing his concerns about ending the DACA program.

“I strongly encourage Congress to work to find a fair and expeditious solution, one that ensures that all have access to the full-range of opportunities the University of Alaska provides,” Johnsen wrote.

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UAA’s Dean of Students, Ben Morton, agrees with Johnsen’s statement and hopes to eliminate the worries that students and their families may be experiencing.

“Given the stakes involved for the students and their families impacted by this decision, I would hope to see a clear path articulated such that students are able to continue with their educational pursuits without the uncertainty that they are currently facing,” Morton said.

The unanimous vote to pass the resolution was a success to Graham, who said that he was happy that his fellow colleagues were willing to advocate for students in the DACA program.

This affirms USUAA’s role in promoting the voices of the student body and ensuring that everyone is represented.

“I was happy to see that everyone was willing to support this and help show their support for this part of the student body I feel is oftentimes marginalized and forgotten about, not given a voice,” Graham said. “I felt like it was a proud moment for us to be able to show that as leaders, we’re standing up for them and we recognize them and their contributions to our school and our state.”

UAA has a variety of programs and resources for DACA students, which Morton said can offer support to help them be successful. One of them is the Multicultural Center and E. Andre Thorn, the director, recognizes the uncertainty that people may be feeling. He said that their goal is to provide students the information and help they need.

“We strive to inform students with as much information as possible to reduce the stress and anxiety about these changes, as well as dispelling misinformation that may be in the environment, given the frequent changes to the policies,” Thorn said.

Although Congress and lawmakers are currently working to find a solution to the repeal, Thorn said that the university will still continue to provide resources for students in need.

There has already been a program established involving the Alaska Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alaska Immigration Justice Project that will give information about students’ rights and the changes to the DACA policy.

“I think that many of the students, staff and faculty that I have spoken with about this issue just want to support students impacted by the decision,” Morton said. “While we may not have all the answers since this seems to currently be a moving target… we want to do everything in our power to make our students know that UAA supports them and their academic and personal success.”

Graham anticipates a solution that will continue to allow students to pursue education and citizenship within the United States.

Copies of the resolution were forwarded to Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Murkowski and Sullivan, Young and members of the UAA administration.

While there is still work to be done regarding the DACA program and finding a solution within the next six months, USUAA is hoping to receive a response from Alaska’s members of Congress or even the White House.