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Rutgers administrators push back against Trump's decision to repeal DACA

<p>With 500 undocumented students enrolled at Rutgers, the recently-announced repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) could have significant repercussions at Rutgers. The University's president and chancellor have both issued statements condemning the president's choice to terminate the program.</p>

With 500 undocumented students enrolled at Rutgers, the recently-announced repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) could have significant repercussions at Rutgers. The University's president and chancellor have both issued statements condemning the president's choice to terminate the program.

As she discussed her arrival in America as a 9-year-old and her current work as an account clerk for the City of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Alma Benavides, 23, could not hold back the tears.

Just a few minutes earlier, she had listened to Attorney General Jeff Sessions make her anticipated, yet dreaded nightmare a reality. The administration of President Donald J. Trump confirmed that it would gradually terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded nearly a million undocumented immigrants, like Benavides, since former president Barack Obama instituted the program in 2012.

“It’s heartbreaking, you know, it’s sad,” Benavides said.

For Benavides, the prospect of being forced to return to El Salvador, a country she left as a child, entails a great degree of uncertainty.

“I have nowhere to go – where would I go?” she said.

Standing behind Benavides and two fellow DACA recipients, Yeimi Hernandez, 17, and Mariandree Reyes, 24, were University President Robert L. Barchi, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone (D-13) and Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz. These political and academic leaders were joined by immigration activists, faith leaders and representatives from non-profits like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a discussion forum held on Cook campus on Tuesday.

In his remarks, Sessions strongly criticized the program and the way it was implemented by the Obama administration.

“The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens,” he said.

Sessions, echoing a morning tweet by Trump in which he called on Congress to do their job, said the program would be terminated gradually to “fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subsequently announced that it had commenced an “orderly phase out of the program” and that the Department will provide a six-month window during which it will consider certain requests for DACA and applications for work authorization, under “specific parameters.”

After listening to the remarks by Sessions, Pallone cataloged the decision by the Trump administration to dismantle the nearly 5-year-old program as an affront to America’s creed of welcoming immigrants. He added that the argument of unconstitutionality utilized by the White House to discredit DACA was unfounded.

Barchi echoed the congressman’s sentiments, reassuring undocumented Rutgers students that the University would maintain its policies of not asking students for their immigration status and not providing student records to anyone unless required by a warrant, subpoena or court order.

Barchi said there are nearly 500 DACA recipients currently enrolled at Rutgers and that they will continue to be Scarlet Knights, no matter how tense the political climate around the issue got.

He said the decision to end the program was wrong and unwise.

“While I believe it is cruel, I’ll go a step further than that – I think it is inconsistent with American values,” Barchi said.

Barchi said that it is now Congress’ moral responsibility to protect this young group of undocumented immigrants, whom he said are part of the American fabric. The University president called on the Rutgers community to urge their elected officials in Washington, D.C. to take immediate action.

In an email message, Barchi asked the Rutgers community to advocate for the passage of the BRIDGE Act, a bipartisan legislative project co-sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would ratify much of the protections under the DACA program, by sending letters to their respective U.S. senators and representative.

Although he said that he would support legislative action that would protect DACA recipients from deportation and offer them a pathway to citizenship, Pallone said that it is not an outright certainty that a Republican-controlled Congress will be able to pass such a bill.

“Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that somehow, as much as we would like to see the BRIDGE Act pass, that it’s going to pass,” he said.

Pallone added that he would not allow DACA recipients to become a bargaining chip of sorts for the Trump administration to get funding for their proposed wall from Congress.

“We’re not building a wall,” the congressman said to a fervent applause.

The DACA recipients present at the event said their hopes now lay in the hands of members of Congress who must pass a bill before the six-month time period forced upon them by the White House.

Although she said she is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of legislation coming to the president’s desk, Reyes, an undocumented mother of two U.S. citizens, said that Trump’s erratic and unusual governing style complicates everything.

Reyes, who came to the United States from Guatemala when she was 12 years old, said that lawmakers should not only consider that DACA recipients like herself are contributing to the economy, but that they are essential parts of communities across America.

She said many families will be left devastated and distressed if some family members are sent to countries they barely know. In her case, she said deportation back to Guatemala would be detrimental for her daughters, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.

“They need me more than anything,” she said. “I want to stay here for them and have a better future with them.”

Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloreports.

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