The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, first initiated by President Obama in 2012, could be among the first policies targeted by the new administration. Because DACA is not a regulation or a law, it is one of the first policy areas President Donald Trump can repeal or reform with his own executive order.
While Trump campaigned with a strong focus on immigration control, during subsequent post-election interviews, he appeared to soften his position on children and students. In response to a question about those individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children, Trump told Time, “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” leaving room for a policy that could include some accommodations.
The timeline for potential DACA action is unclear. Currently, Trump is assembling his White House staff, cabinet officials need to be confirmed, and Congress largely will be focused this month on repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Responding to concerns from students and schools, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities invited higher education associations to join them in urging Trump to keep DACA measures in place. NACUBO and 25 other organizations supported the effort. The resulting letter states, “DACA is only a stopgap measure, and what is needed is the passage of the DREAM Act and ultimately fair, just, and comprehensive immigration reform.”
Many colleges and universities took action to provide undocumented students access to higher education prior to implementation of the DACA program, but many students remain worried about the prospects of deportation for themselves and their families, should the executive order be reversed.
The American Council on Education (ACE) issued a policy brief in December that helps to frame the discussion and addresses matters such as the data students submitted in their DACA applications; sanctuary campuses; institutional pledges of noncooperation; complying with requests by federal officials for records identifying undocumented students or other community members; and other concerns.
The ACE brief, available on its website, also addresses the question about the concept of a “sanctuary campus,” and states that the concept does not “involve a legal status that is recognized under federal law.” However, the authors suggest “Anticipating and having clear, consistent, accurate, and readily available answers to—questions about policies and practices is important.”
In response to the uncertainty about the future of the DACA program, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R–SC) and Dick Durbin (D–IL) introduced the BRIDGE Act last December. This would grant DACA recipients—or those eligible for the program—temporary relief from deportation and provide them with work permits for three years, while Congress works on a permanent solution to their immigration status. Graham and Durbin plan to reintroduce the BRIDGE Act in 2017.
The legislation would also allow current DACA recipients to receive provisional protected status until the expiration date of their DACA status, and they would be able to apply for provisional protected presence prior to this expiration. An individual who is not a DACA recipient, but who is eligible for DACA, could also apply for provisional protected presence.
Institutions should expect to face a rapidly changing environment in this and many other federal policy areas.