Student leaders from all the undergraduate and graduate schools are calling on Penn to provide more resources to students threatened by the Trump administration's recent decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
On Sept. 25, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Undergraduate Assembly sent a joint statement to Penn President Amy Gutmann's office urging the University to “announce its intent to provide for or arrange pro bono legal representation” for student Dreamers who benefit from the DACA at Penn.
“[DACA’s] imminent demise places some of America’s most promising young people in danger from an increasingly aggressive immigration force,” the letter reads. “Penn students are certain to be among the victims of these developments, and they need the university’s support in this trying hour.”
“[The resolution] voices the voice of the student body in a formal way,” UA Vice President and College juniorJay Shah said.
The future of DACA, which was created under former President Barack Obama, was first put at risk on Sept. 5 when President Donald Trump ordered the program to be ended within six months.
More recently, on Sept. 14, he announced that he was working with Democratic leaders in Congress to pass legislation ensuring protection for Dreamers, or children who entered the country illegally as children but were registered with the DACA program. While representatives have already introduced new legislation, Congress has until March to pass legislation re-enacting the protections.
If they fail to do so, nearly 800,000 young people will no longer be protected from deportation.
The letter from Penn students was drafted by two Penn Law School students, Nick Tabor and Akbar Hossain.
Hossain said the idea for the letter stemmed in part from news of a University Council meeting on Sept. 6, where College junior Caleb Diaz, the Latinx Coalition external co-chair and University Council representative presented five requests that the coalition hopes Penn will implement to support student DACA recipients.
The requests included access to housing and food for students who are not able to return home during winter and summer breaks, training for faculty and staff to support DACA student recipients and a pro bono legal fund.
Shah said the formal response to the five requests will be presented by members of the administration at the next University Council meeting on Oct. 25.
Last week, Penn Law set up a free legal clinic to assist students and this will continue to be available, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email.
At the DACA Renewal Clinic, which took place Sept. 22 at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, Penn Law students worked with practicing lawyers to help Dreamers to renew their DACA status, answered questions about DACA and provided other advice on immigration relief.
Penn Law professor Sarah Paoletti, who was one of the organizers of the clinic, said she planned to host the clinic after hearing rumors that Trump might rescind DACA protections. Even before the announcement was made, she met with members of the administration to talk about what Penn could do to protect students.
Hossain said he and Tabor wanted the University to ensure legal representation in addition to legal assistance for student DACA recipients.
He added that the University’s commitment to legal service is especially important because the process of looking for a lawyer is strenuous. Even as a law student, he said he has a difficult time figuring out who to go to for certain issues.
He said he is hopeful that the University will want to have a discussion about a legal fund or pro bono legal services.
“I think the ask is pretty simple — for the University to make a legal fund and also to tell the students publicly that we stand behind you,” Hossain said. “It’s that public statement of support that really means a lot for our students.”
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