Iowa universities react to DACA decision, state they are standing behind their 'dreamers'

'We are extremely disappointed by the administration's announcement'

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Administrators at Iowa State University and University of Iowa are standing by and behind their dreamers in light of new White House plans to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Regardless of the future of the DACA program, the way Iowa State University police interact with citizens will not change,” Interim ISU President Ben Allen wrote in a message to campus Tuesday after Attorney General Jeff Session announced the government no longer will accept new DACA applications in its phase out of the program that has benefited about 800,000 people.

“The university has no jurisdiction in enforcing federal immigration laws,” Allen wrote. “The safety and well-being of the Iowa State community are our highest priority. To this end, Iowa State is fully committed to exercising all legal avenues to support the success and well-being of all individuals.”

UI President Bruce Harreld signed on with other Association of American Universities presidents and chancellors Tuesday to a letter urging Congress act immediately to ensure DACA participants can remain in the country without fear of deportation.

“We are extremely disappointed by the administration’s announcement that it is ending DACA, thereby invalidating the legal status of hundreds of thousands of students,” according to the letter.

Board of Regents President Mike Richards issued a statement Tuesday noting “diverse and inclusive experiences on our campuses” among the board’s core values. He also stressed support for “all students at our institutions.”

Some in recent months have called on Iowa’s public universities to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for students facing deportation. The university presidents have declined to do so, saying that falls out of their purview as they neither “set nor enforce immigration policy.”

Richards on Tuesday said, “As public universities, our campuses will continue to comply with all state and federal laws.”

When asked about the impact of the DACA decision at the University of Northern Iowa, spokesman Scott Ketelsen referred back to the board statement.

Jamal White and Tristan Bernhard, president and vice president, respectively, of the UNI Student Government, released a statement saying the DACA decision will “have a prominent effect on college campuses across the nation.”

The statement acknowledges some students may “suffer” as a result of the decision and it pledges student government support for those impacted.

“ ... It is our hope that those who have the privilege of calling UNI home are able to remain here. This University thrives when it embraces students from all kinds of backgrounds, and it is imperative we continue to embrace this diversity,” the statement reads.

The Trump administration’s DACA announcement establishes a wind-down period for the program, which in 2012 began offering a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. That means Congress has six months to act before the program expires.

The AAU letter Harreld signed asks Congress this fall to enact a permanent solution mirroring DACA, which they say “has enabled these young people to pursue education and employment.”

“With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high-tech industries, and the nonprofit sector,” according to the letter. “They have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate school in numerous disciplines; and they are actively contributing to their local communities and economies by working, volunteering, and paying taxes.”

In Allen’s letter to the ISU community, he expresses “care and concern for members of our community who are feeling uncertain, anxious, or fearful.”

“The DACA program has had a positive impact on our campus,” he wrote. “The people who have benefited from this program are an important and valued part of our community. Accordingly, we are working through out national higher education associations to advocate for a legislative solution that promotes stability for individuals eligible through DACA.”

On the UI campus, spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the repeal of the deportation relief program won’t affect the UI admissions process.

“Students are admitted to the state’s three public universities based on their Regents Admission index or RAI score, which is calculated on their academic and extracurricular achievements,” she said in a statement. “The University of Iowa does not ask for citizenship/immigration status as a part of the application process.”

The universities don’t keep information on undocumented students or those with DACA status. But, Beck said, UI — for one — is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

“At its core, the University of Iowa is its people: students, staff, and faculty guided by the values of community, inclusion, and respect,” according to a letter sent out Tuesday from UI Student Government President Jacob Simpson, UI Graduate & Professional Student Government President Tejasvi Sharma, UI Faculty Senate President Peter Snyder, and UI Staff Council President John Laverty.

“The (DACA) program allowed individuals who came to the United States as children to pursue their postsecondary education,” according to the letter. “As students, staff, and faculty of the University of Iowa, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring all students have equal opportunity to pursue their education in our community. We stand with students impacted by the termination of DACA, and we are dedicated to providing them with our support.”

Late last year, after Donald Trump was elected president, leaders of Iowa’s universities and colleges joined hundreds across the country in signings letters urging DACA be upheld — as speculation swirled before Trump even took office of his plans to drop it.

“To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded,” according to a November letter out of Pamona College in California that garnered 600-plus signatures — including those from presidents of UI, ISU, UNI, Coe and Cornell colleges, and Mount Mercy University.

“This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity,” according to that letter. “America needs talent — and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”

The Iowa campuses have made numerous resources available to DACA students, or anyone affected by the White House announcement Tuesday. At Iowa State, an upcoming session as part of that school’s “Know Your Rights” forum series will bring together immigration experts and other campus professionals to address questions related to DACA.

ISU Student Body President Cody West told The Gazette many students across campus are experiencing fear and confusion right now.

All of us at Iowa State will continue to do everything to the fullest extent of our legal capabilities to ensure continued support for undocumented and DACA students and their success,” he said, referring back to a resolution ISU Student Government passed in February.

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