American University rallies for DACA students

The Office of Campus Life offers students the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, Sept. 18, 2017. Credit: Daisy Brumby.

American University president Sylvia Burwell reiterated her support of undocumented students on the day U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that President Trump planned to rescind the Obama administration’s executive order that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program five years ago.

Burwell, said in a Sept. 5 memo, “AU supports DACA students and will continue to offer protection to the full extent allowed by law.”

“AU Police will not act as agents for or assist the federal government in immigration enforcement actions unless required by law.”

Burwell confirmed the University’s 2016 commitment to its undocumented students, which promises, among other points, not to give out private information about students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless it is required by a warrant, subpoena, or court order.

“AU Police will not act as agents for or assist the federal government in immigration enforcement actions unless required by law,” said Burwell.

She also said the University has several resources in place for AU students who fall into the DACA category, including the Immigrant Justice Clinic and the Center for Diversity & Inclusion.

DACA allowed people who illegally arrived to the U.S. as children to legally enroll in colleges, get driver’s licenses, and get jobs, and essentially “come out of the shadows,” according to Cori Alonso-Yoder of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at AU’s Washington College of Law.

Alonso-Yoder described AU’s response to the announcement to rescind the DACA program as “proactive and immediate.”

Cori Alonso-Yoder, a practitioner-in-residence, at the Immigrant Justice Clinic at American University Washington College of Law. Credit: Daisy Brumby.

Before there was a formal announcement, Alonso-Yoder said the administration started reaching out to its law school to understand the impact on DACA students.

“Our work with the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the Washington College of Law has been very focused on rapid response and community involvement and ‘know your rights’ since the end of last year right after the presidential elections,” Alonso-Yoder said.

A group of motivated students at AU’s Washington College of Law began doing community outreach and as soon as the decision was announced to rescind DACA, it took the lead to integrate the AU community’s response, said Alonso-Yoder.

The group put together a presentation for the main campus at the Kay Spiritual Life Center three days after the announcement, and then one week later initiated a “teach in” with professors, who are experts in constitutional, administrative, and immigration law.

Alonso-Yoder said that was an opportunity for the law students to learn a bit more about the legal analysis and the principals in play, while at the same time helping fellow students who might be impacted by DACA.

According to Alonso-Yoder, she would like to hear directly from AU DACA students so she can provide them with additional resources to help them understand what their future could look like.

“We’re doing our very best to interpret the information, analyze the law and it’s just unfortunate that there’s nothing at this point that’s more established in law,” Alonso-Yoder said.

The Washington College of Law also serves as a resource for students outside of AU who are affected by immigration issues.

Despite the University’s support for it’s undocumented DACA students, no one has come to the Immigrant Justice Clinic seeking advice, yet.

At the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, a resource and liaison center to connect students to a variety of resources on campus like the counseling center, the financial aid office, and the Immigrant Justice Clinic, Director Tiffany Speaks has not had a student ask for personal DACA advise, however, she has had students come in to ask for information on behalf of a loved one.

Tiffany Speaks, AU’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion senior director on Sept. 18, 2017. Credit: Daisy Brumby.

“The students who I’m talking most to have been concerned about immigration status and family.”

Speaks said she thinks that few students at AU are affected by DACA because of the school’s hefty price tag.

The take away, Speaks said is that there are resources for AU students.

“I do not want students bouncing around this campus trying to figure out where to go. I am glad to be a resource,” Speaks said. “Start here first.”

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