Rallying for DACA: A Participating Student’s Perspective

Protestors hold banner reading Here to Stay
October 04, 2017
Michelle Zhao

On September 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s intention to phase out the protections of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in 6 months’ time. The Obama-era immigration policy gave undocumented youth a renewable two-year deferment from deportation under the strict condition that they had entered the United States prior to June 2007 and can show continuous presence since then, were 16 years of age or younger upon arrival, have or are working towards at least a GED, and do not have a criminal record, among other requirements.

The current administration’s decision to end DACA leaves the status of many of these now students and young professionals in definite uncertainty. Although recipients whose DACA status will expire before March 5, 2018 are eligible to renew their status and work permits by October 5, this leaves nearly half of the 790,148 existing DACA-holders unable to renew and thousands of potential new applicants without relief. According to the Department of Homeland Security, approximately 154,000 individuals are ineligible for renewal at this time and will have their status expire by March 5. For the remaining school-age children who migrated before 2007 and will eventually “age in” to eligibility after completing a GED or its equivalent, application for DACA status is no longer possible.

DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are invaluable sources of talent and potential at not only Cornell, but at universities and workplaces all across the country. More importantly, they are human beings, mostly persons of color, whose lives, and those of their families who depend on them, will be negatively affected. In protest of the Trump administration’s decision, the Cornell University DREAM (Development, Relief, Education for Alien Minors) Team quickly organized a rally to demonstrate to the campus and larger Ithaca community that undocumented student voices will not go unprotected or unheard.

The goal of the “UndocuCornell: Defending Undocumented Immigrants” rally was to provide information on what local actions can be taken to defend the undocumented community in Ithaca. Representatives from Cornell DREAM Team, other student groups, faculty, administrators, and working professionals re-emphasized and demonstrated the importance of showing up as a community for migrant and racial justice. Members of BSU (Black Students United) at Cornell University led the crowd in shouting “Dreamers stay, dreamers fight, education is a right” among other chants.

The DREAM Team distributed copies of the United We Dream resource guide translated into 10+ languages. Translations were available with assistance from APAA (Asian Pacific Americans for Action) at Cornell, and included Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, and Urdu. Faculty at Cornell urged students to speak to the university’s Financial Aid Office and Legal Support team in the Cornell Law School to better understand the implications of DACA’s removal on their academic careers. Advocates from the broader Ithaca community disseminated information about support services available, including those offered by the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, Workers’ Center, and Latino Civic Association.

Actions continue to take place across campus in support of undocumented and DACA students. BSU hosted an additional DACA letter writing event in which students wrote to Congress, calling upon their representatives to defend DACA in swift recourse. A group of APAA members visited local restaurants in Collegetown to disseminate information and translated resource guides on DACA and immigrant rights

The Cornell DREAM Team continues to further its mission of expanding awareness and acceptance of undocumented residents in the local community via continued advocacy and outreach efforts. Upcoming events include a phone banking session in which participants will call their respective Congressmen and urge them to support the bipartisan DREAM Act, as well as a “Know Your Rights” information session presented in conjunction with the Cornell Law School. In conjunction with the aforementioned groups, DREAM Team continues to be a resource for all undocumented and DACA students on this campus, including those who may feel less comfortable coming forward.  For example, research has shown that the API community in particular has struggled to access DACA and faces stigma around immigration status. There are currently over 1.6 million undocumented immigrants of Asian descent in the United States, many of which are residing in New York State. 

On the national scale, other universities have also taken formal action to defend DACA. President Pollack’s letter to President Trump on September 1, advocating for the continuation of DACA and protection of young students to “develop their talents without fear of deportation,” was joined by similar messages of support and solidarity from other universities.

As undocumented students and workers struggle for a straightforward pathway to citizenship, local networks and advocacy groups remain a critical source of support in the fight for migrant justice.