President Donald Trump's decision to end a program that protects nearly 790,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation has sparked uncertainty and protest on campus.
On Sept. 5, the White House called on Congress to pass legislation replacing the Obama-era program, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA will be ended in six months, the Trump administration announced.
"It's perverse, and it affects a lot of students at Penn that are DACA recipients." Cipactli Latino Honor Society chair and College senior Ramon Garcia Gomez said. "Among the student community, it's created a lot of uncertainty about what their future is in this country. A lot of these students came when they were young, and they wouldn't know what they're going back to."
The ending of DACA also has ripple effects beyond the student community. Associate Director of La Casa Latina and 2013 College graduate Kareli Lizarraga is an undocumented immigrant who entered the country as a minor.
"We [La Casa Latina] unequivocally stand by undocumented communities at Penn and this country," Lizarraga said.
She added that Penn does not keep track of the number of undocumented students at the University in order to protect them. This is unlike some peer institutions, including Harvard, which has approximately 65 undocumented students.
Penn's administration has also taken a strong stance against Trump's decision to end DACA. President Amy Gutmann has released multiple statements condemning the announcement.
Last week, Gutmann wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging him "in the strongest possible terms" to continue DACA.
"The deportation of these bright and highly motivated young people would grow the federal deficit, greatly damage the economy, and tear the very fabric of our campuses and communities across the nation," Gutmann wrote.
Hours after Trump's announcement, Gutmann released a separate statement condemning the decision, writing that today is a "heartbreaking day for our country."
Penn administrators also addressed the ending of DACA in an emailed statement to the University community Wednesday, reaffirming their commitment to offer support and protect the privacy of undocumented students. Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli signed the message.
"This shortsighted decision violates our core principles as a University community – indeed, as a nation," the statement read. "This country was founded by immigrants and exiles. We have all, generation after generation, fought and strived to achieve our dreams in the United States."
In all the statements above, Gutmann did not refer to Penn as a "sanctuary campus" — a term that is likely to mean law enforcement forces are prohibited from turning over unauthorized immigrants to the federal government. In the past, Gutmann has referred to Penn as a "safe space" and a "sanctuary," but never explicitly described Penn as a "sanctuary campus."
Garcia Gomez said the University's recent statements provide some assurances to DACA students, but that is is difficult to feel settled when the decision still rests with the government.
"I think it's a good sign to DACA students that the University is with them," Garcia Gomez said. "Obviously the statement is important, but not much — it's ultimately up to Congress to make a decision."
Not all students feel positively about Gutmann's advocacy for DACA.
"The President of a University has certain specific duties and those duties do not include taking a stance on national legislation," said Michael Moroz, the co-director of the College Republicans' editorial board and a College and Wharton sophomore.
Garcia Gomez said that in light of the DACA ruling, providing space for affected students on campus is particularly important. Many organizations on campus have been providing support for immigrant communities at Penn even before Trump's announcement on Tuesday.
Penn for Immigrant Rights chair and College senior Pamela Fuentes is an undocumented immigrant protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As chair of the organization, she aims to share her story in hopes that her willingness to address the taboo of an undocumented immigration status will be able to comfort others in a similar position.
“We want to make sure that there's a community and that other undocumented students know that there is a support system of undocumented students within PIR that are willing to help — whoever that may be," Fuentes said.
Fuentes declined to comment about Trump's announcement ending DACA.
Last year, PIR successfully campaigned for Penn administrators to designate Penn a “sanctuary" for undocumented students. They have also established an annual scholarship fund for high school students that anyone can receive, regardless of his or her immigration status.
Senior Reporter Aliza Ohnouna contributed reporting.
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