Hundreds of faculty sign letter asking Arizona universities to protect DACA students

A top astrophysics professor, a dean of students, a vice provost and a chair in peace studies are among the nearly 1,200 faculty, staff and students from Arizona’s public universities and community colleges that signed a letter last week asking the schools to protect undocumented students.

The letter specifically references students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as “dreamers,” which are young undocumented immigrants without serious criminal records who were brought to the U.S. as children and, after registering their personal information with the government, can receive federal work permits, a Social Security number and a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation.

President Obama created DACA as an executive action in 2012. President-elect Donald Trump has said he will “immediately terminate” it.

“The prospect of what will eventuate in January 2017 has spread terror among DACA students and their families,” the letter states.

“In the next semester, we face the prospect of mass arrests, imprisonment and deportation for students who have spent most of their lives in the United States and have been educated in American school classrooms.”

Specific requests to administrators

The letter expresses support for DACA students and outlines specific requests for university administrations on their behalf:

  1. Ensure that student privacy remains guaranteed.

  2. Assign an administrative office the responsibility for counseling DACA students on their educational situation. Advertise that DACA student counseling services are available on a strictly confidential basis.

  3. Continue in-state resident tuition for DACA students who have qualified previously.

  4. In the event of arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, or due to student reluctance to travel to or appear on campus, have in place arrangements for online continuation of their degree programs.

  5. Take these measures during the current semester (in other words, immediately) so that DACA students can be assured of institutional support towards continuing in school next semester, retention, and completion of their degree programs.

The authors sent the letter to university administrators on Nov. 17. The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com reached out to ASU, UA and NAU and so far only has heard back from UA.

UA replies: We already have those

UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said Tuesday that the university already provides much of what the letter requests, and will continue to do so.

The University of Arizona has welcomed and provided DACA students with all the support we can within our authority.

Much of what the writers ask for in the letter is already in place at the University of Arizona. Student privacy is assured by federal law, and it applies to all students regardless of residency status. That includes safeguarding their personal information, academic record, counseling services and any information the students want to withhold from the student directory. There already is an Immigrant Student Resource Center, funded by student fees that assists DACA and other students. Online degree programs are available and the cost is the same for all students regardless of residency or immigration status.

As for tuition, the Arizona Board of Regents sets tuition for the state’s public universities. In 2015, the Board decided to interpret its tuition policies in accordance with a Superior Court decision that determined that DACA students who meet residency requirements may qualify for resident tuition. That interpretation has not changed.

The University of Arizona is open to all qualified students and we value a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and people. Immigration status is not a question either our campus police or our admissions staff would ask.

Support from notable faculty

Among the 1,182 signers are directors, department heads, dozens of professors and three Regents’ professors, which is this highest faculty title in Arizona.

They are from Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, Arizona Western College and the Maricopa County Community College District. Two professors from the University of California system also signed.

Notable signers include:

  1. W. David Arnett, a regents’ professor of astrophysics at UA’s Steward Observatory.
    2. Kendal Washington White, UA’s dean of students.
    3. Vincent Del Casino, a vice provost and associate vice president at UA.
    4. Yasmin Saikia, the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and professor of history at ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.
    5. Robert Neustadt, professor of Spanish and director of Latin American Studies at NAU.

What could happen to DACA students

More than 1.2 million dreamers nationally, including about 50,000 in Arizona, have been approved for DACA, or had their initial two-year reprieve renewed for another two years. Canceling DACA would have a “huge impact” on the lives of dreamers, said Daniel Rodriguez, a Phoenix immigration lawyer who himself was once a dreamer.

Without a work permit, dreamers would no longer be able to work legally and would once again live in fear of being deported, even though the United States is the only country they have ever known, Rodriguez said. Without a work permit, they would no longer be eligible for a driver’s license in Arizona or to pay in-state tuition at community colleges or at the state’s three public universities, he said.

“It means everybody who has worked so hard for the last four years, everything they build they are going to lose all that. They are going to be back at square one,” Rodriguez said.

But since Trump was elected president, Rodriguez has begun advising dreamers that Trump could kill the program and those who have applied now face a higher risk that the information given to the government could be used to deport them.

Where DACA recipients live
The number of immigrants who have temporary deportation relief through Barack Obama’s 2012 executive action between 2012 and March 2016 broken down by state. California leads the nation with 359,112, followed by Texas with 199,084 and Illinois with 68,256.