When Katherine woke last week, her future in this country had entered a state of limbo.
“I started crying because I was so afraid. I never pictured a future where I didn’t have DACA,” said Katherine, a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was six. Katherine asked us not to print her last name to protect her privacy.
After a campaign with a cornerstone of cracking down on illegal immigration and weeks of hinting at the announcement, on September 5th, President Donald J. Trump confirmed that he would be rescinding the Obama-era DACA program, which provided protection to young undocumented immigrants. The program allowed applicants who arrived in the U.S. before their sixteenth birthdays to apply for a renewable two-year permit that provided them with temporary aspects of citizenship like protection from deportation, access to a work permit, a social security number and eligibility for in-state tuition at all public colleges regardless of address.
Trump has encouraged Congress to pass a replacement before he begins phasing out the program by no longer accepting applications. The fate of the young immigrants that many call Dreamers now sits in the hands of Congress for the next six months.
With the plans to roll back the program, Katherine’s fate has suddenly become unclear. Her DACA status expires just months before her graduation, which would leave her without a work permit and vulnerable to deportation.
“I feel like the word immigrant has such a bad connotation to it. People just think we are all criminals and etcetera. I guess, you can say we did commit a crime by coming here young without papers, but the thing people don’t understand is that we come here and we work hard,” said Katherine. “All I came here to do was to have a better future than the one that I had in DR, which is like practically nothing in comparison to what America has offered me.”
In the hours and days after President Trump’s announcement, the country and individuals throughout the CUNY system reacted, voicing their objection in protest, statements, and even legal action.
A group of attorneys general from 15 states, including New York and the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on September 6th. That same day, over one hundred college and university presidents, including Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson, signed a letter condemning the rollback and urging Trump and others to preserve the program.
But the future of the DACA program is unclear. The day after his announcement, Trump showed some hesitation, tweeting, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
The City University of New York has roughly 6,000 students who are undocumented immigrants. The university and the individual colleges provide programs that attempt to protect these students. The university has a “no ask” policy for citizenship, and several resources including scholarship programs; the CUNY Dreamers organization, a CUNY-wide student-led organization that represents undocumented students; the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic (INRC), which provides legal services for immigrants; and Citizenship Now!, which provides free legal advice to immigrants.
The news rippled through the entire CUNY community and drew a response of support from all levels, from student to administration.
On the day of announcement, members of the Brooklyn College Faculty Resist Collective and students took to the front of Boylan to protest, seeing this moment as a time to stand up against what they believe are threats for more to come.
“So many of our students are immigrants themselves or their parents came from another country, and although many of them may have their documents, a lot of them are undocumented or have people in their families or their communities who are. So it feels very close to home within the CUNY wide community and the Brooklyn College community,” said James Davis, President of the Professional Association for Faculty Members. “We want them to know that they are welcome on our campus and in this institution and there are policy issues where we want to get them resources […] but at the end of the day, we are very fundamentally concerned that they not feel unwelcome because the president of the United States is rattling the saber in ways that make them feel unsafe.”
Administration also made a point to show their acceptance and desire to protect these Dreamers.
President Michelle Anderson and Chancellor Milliken both signed the DACA support letter sent to President Trump.
“This decision will harm the Brooklyn College community. I want to assure our DACA students that we will do everything in our power to support them,” said Anderson in a statement to the college.
Chancellor Milliken also made a statement of support for DACA students.
“They represent some of the most talented and creative voices in the CUNY community and our city. We will do everything we can to help persuade Congress to shore up support for the DACA community, not undermine it, and CUNY will provide counseling and guidance to help our DACA students with their needs and questions,” said Chancellor Milliken in his statement. “At CUNY we never waiver from our mission of offering all New Yorkers equal access to opportunity regardless of their status.”
The college also hosted an emergency town hall last Thursday to offer legal advice to Dreamers.
All services for undocumented immigrants provided by CUNY will continue to serve students. Zachary Shultz, Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, encouraged anyone eligible for DACA to renew immediately. The center will be processing renewal applications and providing free clinics.
Though the support has made Katherine feel accepted, she is still worried. She said she hopes Congress can see her humanity.
“If I were in front of Congress, I would just say hear my plea,” she said. “I don’t know nothing else but here. I have already imagined my future up until now.”
“How can you take away the very thing we came here for, which is a dream?”