A Haven Hall classroom was overflowed with University of Michigan students listening to a series of speakers who discussed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which may come under threat because of executive actions by President Donald Trump.
DACA, an executive action — signed in 2012 by former President Barack Obama in response to a gridlock on immigration policy on the part of Congress — protects undocumented students from deportation and allows them to obtain work permits. However, it does not provide a path to citizenship.
Trump has repeatedly advocated stricter immigration laws, deporting undocumented workers and building a wall along the southern border with Mexico. On Saturday, University President Mark Schlissel reaffirmed the University’s commitment to international students by reiterating its policy against releasing the immigration status of students. The announcement followed Trump’s signing of an executive action barring immigration from several majority-Muslim countries.
The first speaker, Karma Chavez, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin, said she believes immigration is currently one of the most prominent issues today.
“I am very excited to be here for this occasion,” she said. “I don’t think there is anything more crucial we can be talking about in this moment. And I have shifted what I have planned to focus on a bit because the last two weeks have been rather intense.”
Citing the political turbulence of the last three weeks, she focused on sanctuary cities, which have become a rallying point for many amid anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions from the White House. In recent months, the Central Student Government has been working toward making the University a sanctuary campus.
Chavez argues institutional sanctuary is more of a fallacy than anything else, and while universities and cities can help facilitate grassroots movements in favor of undocumented people, their connections to institutions will keep them inherently suspicious in their eyes.
She also noted that, while schools are obviously protected spaces, actions like the outlawing of gun bans on campuses in Texas, to the fact that schools do not have the same protections as, for example, churches.
Chavez finished the speech by noting the connections between the queer movement of the early 2000s and the protests of the undocumented population now, and the need for fundamental grassroots protests going forward.
Following Chavez, Silvia Pedraza, a professor of sociology and American culture at the University, discussed the origins of DACA and why it has become such a point of contention for people on all sides of the immigration debate.
According to Pedraza, there seems to be a paradox between accepting the system is broken and a lack of activity on the part of Congress. In this vacuum, Obama signed the DACA executive action, aimed at providing legal protection from deportation to students currently residing in the United States.
“I think that had we ever managed to couple the DREAM Act — which as I have said has had lots of support — with a sort of ‘get tough’ provision, it would have increased the chances of the DREAM Act passing, because it always failed by just a few votes," Pedraza said.
Despite the benefits of the order, Pedraza also emphasized how it lacked what she considered to be the two fundamental aspects that all good immigration reform have: a humanitarian aspect, which helps those currently undocumented, and a “get tough” component, which helps close an existing loophole or problem with immigration.
She concluded by remarking that, despite the current political climate, the increase in participation and organization among the Latino community boded well for the long-term future of undocumented workers.
“I think that what we have been seeing is that the protests have grown larger than ever, and that participation within them has widened so that now there is not just Latinos participating in these protests,” she said. “And I think that, ironically, given the rejection that Latinos have been the brunt of in recent years, more than ever Latinos have come to understand the political process in this country, and in so doing have become American.”
Engineering senior Dulce Rios spoke on her first-hand experience as an undocumented student, and what the recent changes at the University meant to her.
In high school, she said, her undocumented status prevented her from receiving a scholarship, despite being among the top students in her class, and prevented her from receiving financial aid, which left her unable to pay for classes at community college.
Even with all these difficulties, she said she has had a series of lucky breaks that have helped her achieve, including a friend who generously worked to help her pay for her first term as a full-time student and a connection to a fellowship at the University, which eventually led to her being able to attend the University.
She talked about how appreciative she was of the University for giving her a platform to speak on these issues. To her, the sometimes-slow response of the administration is an indication of the University wanting to help students like her, but dealing with the blowback of opponents.
“Right now, helping people is a little more important,” she said.