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Congress must do its part

September 7, 2017
Dorothy Leland


Open Forum on Immigration

A young girl was brought to this country by parents who sought a better life, who instilled her with their work ethic, and who raised her with the desire to contribute in a meaningful way to her family and her society.

She came to UC Merced and joined a research lab, where she studied the human heart’s electrical system in an effort to better predict and prevent its failure. Last year that student, Yuriana Aguilar, filled us all with pride when she earned her Ph.D., and her potentially life-saving research has only just begun.

Without protection from deportation, the promising career of one of the brightest young people our university has so proudly sent out into the world would have foundered.

The same is true for the nearly 600 undocumented students enrolled on our campus, and the thousands of undocumented students on campuses throughout the UC system.

These students are the very embodiment of the American dream, and their presence here is unquestionably beneficial to our state. The prospect of life without the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is one of their worst nightmares. It should be ours as well.

Undocumented students come to UC Merced from all over California. Nearly 1 in 4 of them arrived here from Los Angeles — nearly five hours away from home — in pursuit of a first-rate education and the chance to build a better future. Nearly 1 in 6 of all undocumented students in the UC system are at UC Merced.

I have seen firsthand the positive impact these young students have had on our university, our campus community, our region and the state.

These are hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying young people who enrich our campus and our community. They are setting a positive example for their younger siblings, their peers and even their mentors, and they are making the lives of their families and communities better. They are not a drain on our economy, and they provide no threat to those of us lucky enough to have been born here.

Removing these students from our county would unnecessarily disrupt our neighborhoods and communities, and it would ruin lives in ways that are simply unconscionable

— and it would have a disproportionate effect on the state of California and in communities like ours.

Instead, we should use our collective energy and creativity to develop ways to keep them here and encourage their successes.

College is difficult even for students who come from affluent backgrounds with highly educated parents who can help guide them through this labyrinth. It’s more difficult for first-generation students, whose parents are supportive but lack the educational background to give the timely advice they need. And it’s

more difficult for students who come from low-income families, who often must work one or more jobs to support themselves and their loved ones.

Undocumented students share all of these burdens and more, and what they accomplish in the face of these challenges is truly remarkable. Imagine their desire to make the world a better place — imagine a student working with drones to improve water use in agriculture, while his parents spend their days picking crops just to afford the barest essentials in life.

Bipartisan groups across the country are urging a legislative solution — laws enacted by Congress that would extend DACA protections to students who grew up here and call this country home through new legislation.

We as a campus will continue to do our part.

Many members of Congress have made a similar pledge, and now is the time to follow through. They have the opportunity to prove they value humanity over party politics, and to move us toward a society in which all who embody the American ideals of hard work and ingenuity are rewarded with rich opportunities to build their own futures.

Dorothy Leland is the chancellor of UC Merced.

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