Washington Business Journal: Viewpoint: Note to Congress – it’s time to step up and protect DREAMers

By Irma Becerra – Contributing Writer

It’s hard to believe it has already been two years since the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was on the books for seven years. I can only imagine the anxiety felt by the more than 800,000 DREAMers who could face deportation if the law is, in fact, repealed. Many of those DREAMers study at my institution, Marymount University in Arlington, where I serve as president.
DREAMers are young people who, through no fault of their own, were brought by their parents to the U.S. when they were children. They often know America as their only home. DREAMers are woven into the fabric of our country and are, by every social and human measure, American. They are contributors to our economy, veterans of our Armed Forces, academic standouts in our universities and leaders in our parishes. DREAMers live out their daily lives with hope and determination to flourish and contribute to society. They should not have to live in constant fear of deportation, which would include separation from their families and real dangers of violence and poverty in their countries of birth.
This year, Marymount University partnered with TheDream.US and welcomed five sponsored students who are receiving the equivalent of a Pell Grant to attend Marymount. The university is generously covering the rest and is seeking support to contribute to a scholarship fund in support of DREAMer students, who are not eligible to receive any kind of federal funding. U.S. policy was vastly different when I attended college as a Cuban immigrant, and I was able to obtain scholarships, as well as federal grants and loans to fund my education.
Based on my own experiences in education, and taking into account the current political climate surrounding immigration, I believe universities that serve DREAMer students should follow these initiatives:

  1. Train staff about the requirements and parameters of when a search warrant is necessary.
  2. Designate a place to share information with vulnerable students.
  3. Provide needed support for the local community.

At this point, your advocacy is critical to help DREAMers who could face deportation unless Congress reaches a bipartisan deal to protect them. 
To my fellow university presidents — I encourage you to sign the American Council on Education’s letter that will be sent to congressional leaders, advocating for permanent protection of the young, undocumented individuals who were brought to our country as children and are now enrolled in our schools. The deadline to do so is Sept. 13, at 12 p.m. EDT. By doing so, you will be standing in solidarity with immigrants like me who came to the U.S. seeking protection from the violence in our home countries, looking for a free, secure and better life.
For the rest of you, I ask for your participation in a Call to Action. Please call 855-589-5698 to reach the Capitol switchboard, and press “1” to connect to your senator or representative. Once you are connected, please ask the person on the phone to deliver this simple message: “I urge you to support a bipartisan, commonsense and humane solution for DREAMers.”
Or, you can write to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., emphasizing these points from the American Council on Education letter:

  • It’s long overdue for Congress to provide permanent protection for DREAMers.
  • The Supreme Court will soon consider DACA, but regardless of the court’s decision, legislative action remains necessary. This issue needs to be solved on a permanent, bipartisan basis by Congress.
  • In poll after poll, your constituents have voiced overwhelming support for legislation that would provide a way forward for DREAMers. Across all partisan affiliations, nearly three-quarters of Americans favor granting permanent legal status to DREAMers.
  • These remarkable people are students, colleagues and friends and are American in every way except in immigration status. If we can’t provide relief, we’ll be shutting the door on an entire generation that seeks to contribute their best to America. 

In closing, the DNA of our country includes DREAMers. They represent the American spirit of hard work, grit and the quest for liberty. In fact, we are all DREAMers. We cannot allow injustice to continue — let us all band together and do the right thing by advocating for all DREAMers today.

Irma Becerra is President of Marymount University in Arlington.