Future of Dreamers at Rutgers remains shaky after bipartisan talks
Late Wednesday night, reports of a bipartisan deal struck between President Donald J. Trump and congressional Democrats on a legislative replacement to the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program left Dreamers in hope and confusion after Trump discredited the agreement later that morning.
The latest news reports that Trump invited Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to dinner at the White House which ended in agreements of an outline to continue the protections offered under DACA but an official settlement has yet to be reached.
Trump is selling the DACA-deal to Republicans as a way to pass an increase in funding for border security.
“I literally feel like a political puppet because I’m being used by a president to get something for his party,” said Sergio Baron, a Dreamer who came from Colombia when he was 6-years-old.
An estimated total of 690,000 immigrants that are currently shielded from deportation and have work permits under DACA face an uncertain future, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.
But when it comes to advocating on behalf of Dreamers, Rutgers has been an instrumental part in leading the conversation among the Big Ten and other public universities in the U.S., according to Department of External Affairs Senior Vice President, Peter J. McDonough Jr.
“We’re fully engaged,” he said. “I would doubt if there is any university that has taken on a greater leadership role, some other universities might have taken an equal role but I do not know if there is any other university that has been more active.”
McDonough estimates that more than 20,000 pre-written letters of support were emailed to representatives in Congress from an initial advocacy push for undocumented immigrants in early January and since Trump’s decision to rescind DACA on Sept. 5, over 13,000 more emails have been sent from a Rutgers Advocacy web page.
A Rutgers Eagleton Poll in 2015 found that 64 percent of residents believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for U.S. citizenship, an increase of 12 points since last asked by another Rutgers Eagleton Poll in 2012.
With shifting public opinion and electronic letters of support being sent to members of Congress, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Assistant Director Ashley Koning said she believes this is still a tricky situation to read.
“We saw this happen with gun control a few years back where 94 percent wanted more gun control nationwide, and you saw that a slew of gun control bills in Congress did not make it through,” she said.
McDonough also said the Rutgers Office of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C. has been working closely with education-heavyweights, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) and land-grant universities. It is another layer to how Rutgers is working to help find a solution.
Despite Rutgers involvement, there is no permanent legislative solution for Dreamers and no indication of whether the bipartisan DACA-deal can even be depended on.
“Trump has been so inconsistent on policy questions that you never know what his position is,” said Gerald Pomper, an emeritus professor in the Department of Political Science. “And so, I wouldn’t trust that deal to hold because Trump is unreliable.”
Apart from Trump’s erratic policy positions, Pomper also said the president’s electoral base is against keeping undocumented immigrants in the U.S., so he is skeptical whether Trump is ready to move away from a “major element of his appeal.”
Trump’s rescindment of DACA also came with a six-month deadline for lawmakers to find a solution on Capitol Hill that has been unsuccessful in healthcare reform and has yet to act on rewriting the tax code.
“Taking an issue as politically explosive as immigration and coming up with legislation and passing it in a relatively short amount of time is a very tall order,” said Stuart Shapiro, professor of public policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “Just telling Congress to pass legislation, is not going to make it happen.”
In spite of the hurdles, the main bipartisan legislative effort in Congress introduced to continue protecting Dreamers from deportation and to keep them working is the Bridge Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), and Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-Ill.).
Apart from elected officials and university presidents speaking out, the Bridge Act may act as a glimpse of hope for Dreamers facing a discouraging situation, but the bill still does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
Shapiro said that since Dreamers tend to be of working age, they tend to contribute more than they take from the federal government.
In the meantime, the Rutgers Immigrant Community Assistance Project (RICAP) at Rutgers Law School is working to provide immigration legal services for those affected by the rescindment of DACA. All students currently enrolled at Rutgers are eligible for a free and confidential legal consultation with RICAP Immigrant Rights Attorney Jason Hernandez, 856-225-2302.
“I feel taken advantage of but at the same time, I still feel privileged to be here. I’m grateful DACA even happened because it was way worse before,” Baron said. “But it still boggles my mind why the U.S. wouldn’t want Dreamers here since we’re paying taxes and getting nothing in return from the government.”