‘Wait and see’ on DACA, say trustees of college


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Molly Adams

Marchers gather in Los Angeles on Sept. 5 to support immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. AACC has not released any public statements about the issue.

Roxanne Ready, Editor-in-Chief

AACC officials say the college supports students who immigrated to the U.S. as children without legal permission. But they have not taken any public actions on those students’ behalf.

“We clearly support these students and hope that they will be able to continue and finish their education here,” Dr. Larry Ulvila, the chair of AACC’s Board of Trustees, said. “We feel strongly for our students.”

But unlike some other Maryland colleges, AACC has not released any official statements on behalf of students who benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA—a 2012 law that temporarily blocks the government from deporting some immigrants who came here illegally as children.

“We decided to just sit back right now,” Ulvila said. “We don’t think that anything that we say is going to have an impact on [the issue].”

President Donald Trump in September said he would end DACA, but multiple lawsuits have forced the U.S. government to continue accepting DACA applications until the courts decide otherwise.

Congress could make the law permanent but has not done so, and the program’s future is uncertain.

“I’m just kind of hoping that because of this, it seems, lack of focus right now on it [in Congress] that it might just sort of blow over and [the students will] be allowed to continue [their educations],” Ulvila said.

Adil Qaiyumi, an AACC professor of homeland security and an immigration attorney, said he has spoken with “a number of students” who are hesitant to sign up for DACA because they worry the government will deport them or their families if it ends.

“Anyone who comes to see me has … anxiety, because their future is a little uncertain; their family’s future is uncertain,” Qaiyumi said.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore
President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd in Arizona. He announced in September he would end protections for immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

Five of Maryland’s 16 public community colleges have released public statements in support of students benefiting from DACA, either in press releases or by signing an open letter on Pomona College’s website.

The Pomona letter, which the California college posted in November 2016, asks “our country’s leaders” to make sure DACA is “upheld, continued and expanded.”

“America needs talent,” the letter reads, “and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States … represent what is best about America.”

The website lists 703 signatures from public and private colleges and universities around the country.
Presidents from all 12 colleges in the University System of Maryland sent a similar letter in September to Maryland’s congressional delegation.

Gabriella Flores, a second-year business administration student, said she was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated here from El Salvador.

“[DACA] allows [immigrants] to not only have opportunities, but to be less scared,” Flores said. “When you have fear, you are constantly distracted. … But this program, it helps get rid of the majority of the fear so they can work toward something that will give them a better future.”

According to Ulvila, 103 degree-seeking AACC students benefit from the Maryland Dream Act, a program that grants in-state tuition to non-U.S. citizens if they graduate from a Maryland high school, among other requirements.

The Dream Act is a state law and separate from DACA. But many students who qualify for it are also DACA recipients.

In a September email to faculty, AACC President Dawn Lindsay said the college admits “all qualified individuals regardless of U.S. citizenship” and that employees have a “shared pledge to support our students in every way.”

An FAQ attached to the email said the college will cooperate with all federal and state laws, adding that AACC does not have the authority to prevent federal officers from coming on campus.

The FAQ also said the college will not share a student’s personal information with anyone, including federal immigration agents, without written consent of the student, a subpoena or a court order, in line with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Police Chief Sean Kapfhammer said if Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrived on campus with a warrant for a student—whether one signed by a judge or a special ICE warrant—his officers would find out where that student was, lead the agents to the classroom and then “take a hands-off approach” unless the student became combative.

“In the unlikelihood they would ever come here … we would want to get the ICE agents on and off the campus as quickly as possible,” Kapfhammer said. “We’d rather have as little disruption as possible to the campus.”

Ulvila also said AACC will comply with federal agents.

“We are not going to try to write our own law,” Ulvila said. “‘Wait and see’ is probably the best way to characterize what we’re doing. … We don’t want to wave any flags. In part, I guess, the reason we haven’t made a real statement is we don’t want people to focus on us, either, or our students.”