SUNY community dedicated to protecting “dreamers”

Legislative Gazette photo by Katelyn Cordero

As college students across New York were settling into their first week of classes, the Trump administration announced on September 5 that it would be repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program allows children of illegal immigrants to study in the United States and seek employment after graduation via renewable two-year permits.

The announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that DACA would be phased out over the next 6 months, at which time 800,000 young men and women in the United States will be eligible for deportation.

Educators and students in the State University of New York system are reacting with fear and anger over the announcement, as it leaves the future of many SUNY students uncertain.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, with the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is challenging the legality of the DACA repeal, a move that is supported by SUNY administrators.

SUNY Chairman Carl McCall and Chancellor Kristina Johnson, in a joint statement, say they support the legal challenge initiated by Schneiderman and 14 other attorneys general.

The called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “the American Dream in motion.”

“We are extremely disappointed to learn that this important program could come to an end without a fair and permanent solution for those who would be impacted. We urge Congress to act swiftly and decisively to protect the earned rights of DACA enrollees.

“SUNY’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion will not falter,” McCall and Johnson said in their statement.

Legislative Gazette file photo
Lawmakers and students hold a rally on the State Education Building in Albany to push for a DREAM Act that would allow, among other things, undocumented students to study in the United States.

In the two weeks since the Trump administration announced it would be discontinuing the DACA program, there has been some confusion in the midst of mixed messages coming from congressional leadership and the White House.

The rhetoric surrounding a supposed deal between the president and congressional leaders to protect undocumented students and young workers is enough to inspire uncertainty for the 800,000 it would leave unprotected, but the logistics of how a deal such as the DREAM Act would be implemented are even hazier.

Even with unanimous Democratic support for a DREAM Act, legislation this substantial would require the courting of votes from Republican lawmakers who fear challenges from the right next November.

Meanwhile, an estimated 42,000 “dreamers” are living in New York, and would face the possibility of deportation if the DACA program is repealed.

The SUNY Student Assembly, which represents nearly 600,000 students on 64 campuses, issued a statement saying it is “deeply disturbed” by the decision to repeal the DACA program.

“This harmful, discriminatory decision will not impede the Student Assembly’s advocacy efforts on behalf of undocumented students,” the statement reads. “To the contrary, we stand more committed than ever to fighting for these vital members of the SUNY community on the local, state, and federal levels.

“To the undocumented students across the SUNY system who will go to sleep tonight afraid, we have one message: We will fight as hard as we can to ensure that you are afforded the rights entitled to you as Americans. We will double down on our efforts to convert the bipartisan support which has been expressed for dreamers, into a permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients.”

Individual SUNY campuses have been releasing statements to their students to let them know where their campus leaders stand on the situation.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, expressed his support for the DACA program.

“We all must recognize the uncertainty, fear, and anger that members of our community are experiencing. As I have shared on other occasions, I have seen how such difficult times bring out the best in our New Paltz community. Let us offer support to each other now,” Christian said.

Legislative Gazette file photo
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo speaks at a rally in the Capitol in support of the New York State DREAM Act.

The United University Professions, the union representing SUNY employees at 29 of SUNY’s 64 campuses, also opposes the decision made by the Trump administration.

“We need leadership from the president and Congress, not political posturing,” said UUP President Frederick Kowal. “It is time to build bridges to citizenship for the Dreamers and their families.”

The University Faculty Senate, which is comprised of representatives from each of the system’s four-year campuses, have reiterated a pledge made earlier this year to stand by students, faculty and staff to support the “dreamers.”

Faculty senators from across the State University of New York passed a resolution back in January of this year asking colleagues to do what they could to support those who may be in peril from the uncertainty of the political actions swirling in Washington, D.C.

The resolution calls for the 64 campuses in the system to “petition [individual campus administrations] to make all SUNY locations sanctuary campuses.”

“It is more important now than ever that we remind students, faculty and staff of our commitment to their safety and security,” said Faculty Senate President Gwen Kay.