What Can Urban and Metropolitan Campuses Do to Support our Dreamers?

President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has sent a shock wave through our campus communities and set off a tidal wave of anxiety and fear amongst our Dreamers and their families. The President’s action challenges all of us who care about the wellbeing of our students and who are deeply worried about what this action will mean for us, for them and for our nation.


For over two decades, our elected leaders have argued over immigration and, in particular, the legal status of young people who were brought to this country by their parents when they were too young to make a decision on their own. The first Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) was introduced in the 107th Congress in 2001-2002. The most recent version of the DREAM Act was introduced in July 2017 as a bipartisan bill. To fill the gap left by the lack of Congressional action, President Obama created DACA by Presidential Executive Order on June 15, 2012.  DACA is neither a law nor a regulation which means that it could be modified or rescinded by the next administration. It does not open a pathway to citizenship. Dreamers who qualify for DACA are protected from deportation, allowed to work in this country legally, encouraged to seek further education, serve in the military and obtain a driver’s license. President Trump has now chosen to revoke DACA, delaying the action for six months, ostensibly to allow time for Congress to enact legislation preserving DACA if it chooses to do so.  We now have compelling evidence that DACA has had a positive impact both on the lives of Dreamers and their families and on the economy and the communities where they live. Will that experience be enough to convince Congress to act?

Judith Ramaley

Judith Ramaley is President Emerita of Portland State University and Distinguished Professor of Public Service at in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government.

Our Stake in the Game

Urban and metropolitan universities, as a group have a special stake in the future of DACA because we serve large numbers of students from diverse backgrounds, including many Dreamers. We must work both individually and together to support and protect our undocumented students during this period of confusion, fear and uncertainty. We must be advocates for the restoration of DACA through swift Congressional action.

What case can we make for the wisdom of maintaining DACA?

We cannot simply argue from factual evidence although, as academics, that is what we always try to do. In the policy arena, we have learned painfully that the facts along are rarely convincing to critics of an action. Think about this administration’s attitudes and behaviors in the realm of climate change, for instance. We must provide rational arguments about the impact of DACA but also address the underlying and usually unexamined assumptions that shape how people see the world.  The arguments against DACA are driven by deep images and metaphors. George Lakoff (2016) argues that we are all influenced by these mental models. According to Lakoff, Republicans are likely to view government as a stern father while Democrats think about government as a nurturing mother. Of course, none of us talk that way but this image seems to explain why the advocates of eliminating DACA all talk about “alien minors” who have violated our laws by coming to this country illegally.DACA opponents seem not to care about actually measuring the contributions of Dreamers to society, the economy and the workforce. Ten conservative state attorneys general, led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, argue that DACA is unconstitutional. U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, not only calls DACA unconstitutional but accuses DACA of putting our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism. Sessions also claims that DACA has resulted in denying jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans. Sessions says he is seeking to uphold the impartial rule of law. He does not talk about the potential costs of this viewpoint. In this case, the potential costs for our Dreamers, their families and our campuses are very high. The potential costs for employers, for communities and for all of us are also high.

Those who support DACA talk about the humanitarian crisis that will be caused if DACA is not replaced with DREAM legislation. They cite actual data that there have been positive economic and educational outcomes for the Dreamers themselves and their families and for the rest of us as well. According to one study conducted by the admittedly left-leaning Center for American Progress (Wong et al 2016), fully 95% of Dreamers are employed or going to school or both. Some are in the military. Many are pursuing an education in fields where we most need qualified applicants such as computer science, nursing, early childhood education and biochemistry. With this additional education and with better paying jobs, Dreamers are paying taxes and contributing their time and energy to public life.

Dreamers do not represent a threat to our national security or to our public safety. These young undocumented people must pass rigorous scrutiny before being granted protection under DACA and must reapply every two years. They have to have come to the United States before the age of 16, be no older than 30 now, currently be in school or obtain e a general education development (GED) certificate or have been honorably discharged from the coast guard or the armed forces and have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or more than three minor misdemeanors. On top of all that, they must not be a threat to national security or public safety. In short, Dreamers are among our very best young people and a credit to their families and productive citizens of their communities.

DACA does not offer a privileged path to citizenship. The current presidential executive order that set up DACA clearly does not offer a path to either obtaining a green card or citizenship although just under 40,000 DACA recipients out of nearly 800,000 have obtained green cards and 1000 have become American citizens. This is possible only because there is another legal process by which a DACA recipient can change their immigration status. They can marry an American citizen for example.  DACA recipients cannot achieve this status through DACA itself.

There is no evidence that DACA recipients have displaced native-born workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our national unemployment rate hovers at around 4.4% and in August nonfarm payroll employment increased by 156,000 jobs. DACA recipients can obtain better paying jobs and pursue educational opportunities that prepare them to fill critically needed jobs in industry, the non-profit sector and in professional and business services, a demand that has not been satisfied by the number of qualified native-born applicants available.

What does DACA mean for our colleges and universities?

According to a briefing paper prepare by the American Council on Education (ACE 2016) shortly after the recent presidential election, this is the first time that a large-scale immigration enforcement effort may be directed against our colleges and universities. It is still unclear whether the Administration’s efforts will target us. It is also impossible to estimate what kinds of legal challenges may be made to attempt to halt any actions against our Dreamers or their families. Currently, the two agencies that seek to enforce our immigration laws are operating under a memorandum issued by the Department of Homeland Security in November of 2014 that prioritizes threats to national security, border security and public safety. Clearly our Dreamers pose no threat. There are now three new agencies charged to enforce our immigration policies, namely the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP). ICE operates under their own Sensitive Areas Policy that provided that enforcement efforts should be avoided at post-secondary schools and other institutions if learning such as vocational schools.  We are not, for the moment, on the enforcement radar screen but that may not last.

Both the short and long term consequences of the elimination of DACA are severe and frightening. Our students and their families face the possibility that Dreamers may lose their work eligibility, their access to instate tuition and even their opportunity to remain in this country. We have affirmed our commitment to our students and their wellbeing. We are providing legal services and offering workshops on immigration issues. We are providing counseling services to help our students and their families deal with the fears that are flowing unchecked by any clear information about what the revocation of DACA may mean for them.

Many of us have declared our campuses to be sanctuaries for our undocumented students. Unfortunately, the concept of sanctuary has no clear meaning under federal law. All we can do is refuse to share information with immigration enforcement agencies, should they begin to target our students but only to the fullest possible extent under the law. We are getting advice about where the line will be drawn regarding requests by federal offices for student records and for the identification of undocumented students


Our campuses have little standing in this debate. So far, we must support the efforts of others. Many of us have forcefully expressed our support for DACA on both moral and educational and economic grounds. We have reaffirmed our commitment to inclusion and equity on our campuses and our commitment to our Dreamers.  The American Council on Education (2017a) sent a letter on September 12, 2017 to the leadership of the House and the Senate urging “Congress to pass bipartisan legislation as soon as possible that will include all the protection currently provided by DACA and allowing these young people to continue contributing to our society and economy by working, serving in the military or attending college.” This petition was signed by 78 associations (American Council on Education 2017a).  In a more recent set of talking points on DACA, ACE (2017b) provided a list of other statements in support of Dreamers and a helpful guide to talking points about DACA. igher Education asso iayions as well as individual institutional leadership have Those of us whose campuses are in blue states have had the opportunity to sign onto the lawsuit filed by the Attorneys General of 15 states and the District of Columbia that seeks to block the plan to terminate DACA (New York Times 2017.  The states that have joined this effort are New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, along with the District of Columbia. California has filed its own lawsuit.

There is much we don’t yet know about what this assault on the lives of our students will mean and what options our campus communities will have to protect our Dreamers. What we do know is that we will offer support and resources and a caring environment while we do our best to influence Congress to affirm the value of DACA and restore it through the legislative process.


American Council on Education (ACE) 2016. Immigration Post-election Q & A: DACA Students, Sanctuary Campuses,” and institutional or community assistance. Washington DC: ACE.

ACE  (2017a) “Higher Education Association Call On Congress to Protect Dreamers.” :etter sent on September 12, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Letter-to-Congress-on-Deferred-Action-for-Childhood-Arrivals.aspx  on September 29, 2017.

ACE (2017b)  Retrieved from https://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Higher-Education-Associations-Call-on-Congress-to-Protect-Dreamers.aspx  retrieved from https://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Higher-Education-Associations-Call-on-Congress-to-Protect-Dreamers.aspx  on September 29, 2017.

Graham, Jesse, Jonathan Haidt and Brian A. Nosek (2009) Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(5): 1029-1045.

Lakoff, George (2016) Moral Politics. Third Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. P. 7.

New York Times, September 6, 2017. “Attorneys general from 15 states, D.C. sue to save DADA. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/attorneys-general-from-15-states-dc-sue-to-save-daca/2017/09/06/98bca3b2-930f-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html?utm_term=.15d634c166d6  on September 29, 2017

Wong, Tom K.,Greisa Martinez Rosas, Adrian Rena, Ignacia Rodriguez, Patrick O’Shea, Tom Janet’s, and Philip E. Walgin. (2016) Center for American Progress. Posted on October 18, 2016 on https://www.americanprogress.org/issue/immigration