As a nation, we are at a pivotal crossroads for immigration policy. And as chancellor at the University of California, Merced, I am acutely aware of the impact that federal immigration policy has on the nearly 600 undocumented students on our campus — the highest percentage of enrollment at any UC campus.
I urge Congress to take this opportunity to resolve the urgent matter of protecting our numerous DACA students, who were brought to this country as children and view America as the only home they have ever known. A compromise that combines permanent protections without harsh restrictions and reasonable border security measures would create a foundation for future immigration reform discussions. The time to do what most Americans agree on is now.
More than a year ago, I brought to the public’s attention a firsthand and heartfelt perspective of the positive impact DACA students have on my university, our state and the nation. As a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which has doubled in size in the past year to include over 420 university presidents and chancellors, I have since urged members of Congress to follow through on their pledge to come to a bipartisan legislative solution and enact laws that would extend DACA protections for these young people who contribute so greatly to their communities and our society.
Fast-forward a year: Last week the Supreme Court decided it would not hear the government’s appeal on DACA at this time. While I applaud that decision, the plight of DACA recipients remains urgent, and a legislative solution imperative. As Congress considers permanent solutions to federal immigration policy amid the threat of another federal government shutdown, full and permanent protection for DACA must be included. Only Congress can pass legislation that protects these students from deportation and puts them on a path to citizenship.
These students and their families have endured this uncertainty for too long. These are hard-working and high-achieving young people. Their parents, who in many cases fled to the United States to save their children from dangerous and volatile situations and then raised them here with sacrifice and great love, still face the fear and potential heartbreak of dashed dreams and lost opportunity.
These students fear having their dreams of earning a university degree, of working in a meaningful career, of conducting research in fields that are critical to our society and our world, and of contributing to their communities here in the United States disappear. The pervasive anti-immigrant rhetoric that has permeated political discourse has caused these students to doubt our ability to protect them and deliver on our commitment to provide opportunity for all.
The foundation of American higher education is grounded in the principles of opportunity, openness to new ideas, and emphasis on critical thinking. These core values created the most robust and dynamic academic system in the world. Now that foundation is being threatened by political leaders who extol exclusion and spread fears about an enemy that does not exist.
Protecting DACA recipients with a path to citizenship is not a partisan issue, it is a broadly held American priority. I again call on Congress to resolve this matter and pass bipartisan legislation that will permanently protect our students at UC Merced, and the more than 800,000 affected students attending universities throughout the nation. Along with educators from coast to coast, I urge members of Congress to put aside their differences and to work together on a permanent solution to protect these students and to also support their ongoing contributions to our nation as future citizens, before their opportunity to contribute to our great country is destroyed and the damage is irreversible.
California – and by extension, the University of California – is a beacon, and should serve as an example to the world that fear does not bring out our best natures, and that openness and inclusion are pathways to a better, more just society.