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By Alison Berg, USU Statesman, Friday, Oct. 13 2017
The Utah State University Student Association (USUSA) Government Relations Council (GRC) announced in a statement Thursday its support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA.
The statement, which the GRC said it plans to send to Utah’s national representatives, encourages lawmakers to “protect these individuals” because “these students are part of what makes Utah State University an exemplary institution and a loss of these students would degrade the quality of the student body here and at other Utah institutions of higher learning.”
Bridget Brown, the USUSA student advocate vice president, said the main goal of the letter is to make sure students affected by DACA feel supported.
“Especially a group of students who’s been really under fire for the last couple of months,” she said, “just making sure they know that we support them and that means that we want to help them accomplish their schoolwork, their dreams and these other things without worrying about immigration insecurity.”
The letter acknowledges the “legal qualms one might have about the origin of DACA,” and encourages representatives to support “congressional solutions to this issue.”
Legislation aiming to “legalize” DACA includes the BRIDGE Act, the American Hope Act, the Recognizing America’s Children Act and the Dream Act. These pieces of legislation are sponsored by members from both major political parties, and are expected to have “widespread bipartisan support,” Rep. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told The New York Times.
Sam Jackson, the GRC’s liaison to Democratic groups, said the council felt it was important to treat this issue as a bipartisan one.
“The GRC is a nonpartisan organization, but we feel this is not a partisan issue — our number one priority is looking out for and speaking up for the student body,” Jackson said. “Whether someone is a Republican, Democrat or Independent, they should have the decency to want these people to stay in our country. They are productive, active members in our society and it is wrong to deport them.”
The GRC’s letter comes in conjunction with a letter from the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE,) signed by all of the state’s public higher education institutions’ presidents.
The USHE’s letter, which was drafted and signed in September, urges Utah’s representatives to “support a legislative solution as soon as possible to enable all students who have grown up in the United States to continue contributing to their communities and classrooms in ways made possible by higher education.”
According to one study done at the University of California, San Diego, “64 percent of undocumented millennials” said they felt “a greater sense of belonging in the United States” after being approved for DACA.
The same study found about 65 percent of DACA’s student participants had pursued higher education and about 33 percent planned to in the future.
Although not stated in the letter, USUSA representatives said they also plan to hold information workshops where students affected by DACA can speak directly to legal experts to have their questions answered.
“We just fundamentally believe it’s every person’s right to understand the legal actions that could affect them,” said Blake Harms, the USUSA executive vice president. “The best way we thought to support (students affected by DACA) is by bringing lawyers onto campus who understand the immigration system, and then they can actually answer questions directly to people who might be affected.”
While Harms, Brown and the GRC have not figured out the details of these workshops, Brown said they will be panel discussions held in open but intimate locations so students will feel comfortable coming forward while also feeling a sense of privacy.
“We’re aware that it’s very stressful to put yourself out there as an undocumented citizen or student, but we still want them to come to get information,” she said. “We’re going to try to plan it so that it’s not a big, flashy event — so you wouldn’t be parading yourself around.”
The events will be open to all students and community members.
“We encourage every student to come because it’s something that actually does affect every one of us,” Harms said. “It’s something that we all should understand better.”
Although the primary goal of the workshops is to provide information to those affected by DACA, Brown said the workshops will also aim to destigmatize those students and promote equality.
“It’s good for students to know that a student who’s enrolled at Utah State is a Utah State student — so whether you’re undocumented or not, you’re still going to be a USU student,” she said. “I just feel like it’s such an interesting issue where nobody should be seen as lesser…because they’re undocumented.”