Despite President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric during both his campaign and while in office, his administration last week ruled to allow more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States — at least temporarily.
Penn students, while relieved at the ruling, are hesitant to celebrate just yet.
Trump said in a June 16 memo that he plans to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects “dreamers” — individuals who entered the United States as children. However, White House officials have been quick to emphasize that this is just a temporary ruling.
“There has been no final determination made about the DACA program, which the president has stressed needs to be handled with compassion and with heart,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
Penn’s administration was pleased with Trump’s turn on DACA.
“We are glad that President Trump has expressed this new position,” University spokesman Stephen MacCarthy said in a statement.
Penn has been outspoken in favor of immigrant rights in the past. After several petitions from student groups last year, Penn declared itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented students, in a letter sent by top administrators, including Penn President Amy Gutmann.
In the Nov. 30 letter, Penn affirmed that the University wouldn’t allow immigration officers on campus without a proper warrant, or proffer any information about undocumented students without proper legal proceedings.
Frank Calabrese, a former immigration lawyer and the associate director of Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services said DACA is a worthwhile measure that provides individuals “hope and a means to come out of hiding.”
But Calabrese added that he did not consider this any great victory, as Trump made no definitive statement on the permanent status of DACA.
“This could change. Who knows? I think the president’s a little bit erratic in what’s going on, and the thing with DACA is that it doesn’t necessarily work,” he said. “It’s not a pass to a green card.”
Besides, the extension of DACA doesn’t solve all the problems that undocumented immigrants face, according to Erik Vargas, a rising College sophomore and media liaison of Penn for Immigrant Rights. Many students at Penn protected under DACA still fear for the potential separation of their families if they have undocumented, and thus unprotected, parents, he said.
Vargas noted that there are also Penn students who are citizens but have undocumented parents. Like many DACA students, they too face the threat of homelessness if their parents are deported.
Vargas said he is particularly worried about potential legislation in his home state of Texas. According to The Los Angeles Times, Texas legislators have already passed a bill that allows local law enforcement to request the immigration status of anyone they arrest for any type of felony. The state has also passed laws punishing local police who ignore federal immigration requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
The bill is supposed to go into effect on Sept. 1, but five large Texas cities such as Houston, Dallas and Austin have challenged it, halting its progress for now.
Vargas fears that, if passed, the bill could set a precedent that could influence Pennsylvania legislation and threaten Penn’s current status as a sanctuary campus.
Calabrese said it is crucial that Penn remains a sanctuary campus in order to protect the students who are not on DACA — in other words, undocumented students who didn’t come to the United States as young children, or who fail other requirements of the DACA program.
Calabrese said he thinks students protected under DACA are “relatively safe,” but Vargas is still skeptical.
“Although it is a source of relief, there is plenty that has to be done,” he said. “It’s not just something that you can sit back on.”