- Ralph K.M. Haurwitz American-Statesman Staff
Higher education leaders in Texas and nationally said Tuesday that Congress should act quickly so that students brought illegally as children into the country can study here, work here and become citizens.
“They, like others, have served our nation with distinction in their academic pursuits, in our nation’s military, and as productive members of society,” said University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven. “This service should be applauded and honored. Our nation should recognize the potential in these students, granting them the opportunity to pursue their education and enter the workforce in this country.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Barack Obama established in 2012 to give certain undocumented immigrants a chance to attend college and work without fear of immediate deportation.
The timing of Trump’s decision was no coincidence: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with Republican officials in nine other states, had threatened to sue the administration if the program, commonly known as DACA, wasn’t rescinded by Tuesday.
“I applaud President Trump for phasing out DACA,” Paxton said. “As the Texas-led coalition explained in our June letter, the Obama-era program went far beyond the executive branch’s legitimate authority.”
That letter said the threatened lawsuit would follow the same legal reasoning that prompted the federal courts to block Obama’s 2014 attempt to expand DACA and add protections for unauthorized immigrants who were parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. Texas led a 26-state coalition in successfully challenging that effort.
Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that the Constitution assigns immigration responsibility to Congress and that any fix for DACA is up to federal lawmakers, but he stopped short of offering advice on what the fix should be. The Trump administration said DACA would be phased out after six months, allowing time to give Congress a shot at crafting a fix.
“If it forces the Congress to make some thoughtful, reasonable decisions about immigration policy it might be a good thing,” Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said. “If Congress remains deadlocked, it could have some very negative impacts.”
Few definitive answers
Whether students brought here illegally could even enroll in college could depend on how Trump dismantles DACA, Paredes said. On the other hand, Paredes noted, a state law allows certain undocumented students to qualify as Texas residents for higher education purposes, including in-state tuition. But with no chance to work legally, they would be under great pressure to leave the country.
“We’ll be talking to general counsels at different campuses in hopes that there’s some kind of consensus on what this means,” the commissioner added. “I don’t think there’s much we can do until we get a definitive answer from Congress or the White House on how this shift on DACA will be implemented.”
About 800,000 undocumented immigrants have benefited from DACA, including 234,000 in Texas, second only to California’s 425,000.
McRaven said the UT System, with 14 academic and health campuses, would follow the law. “And while I understand the concern of the president and others about how DACA was implemented, the critical fact is that I and the UT System believe in our DACA students and that their opportunities to contribute to Texas and our nation should be upheld and continued by our leaders in Washington,” he said. “Congress must now act quickly to provide a bridge for these students to remain in the U.S. and become citizens.”
Directing his comments at such students, often called “dreamers,” McRaven said that “as UT adheres to federal and state laws regarding immigration, rest assured our campuses will remain places where you can safely study as Congress takes up this issue.”
UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said he too wants Congress to quickly pass long-term legislation supporting “young immigrants who have spent most of their lives in the U.S.” And Denise Trauth, president of Texas State University, said her school “is committed to the well-being of all members of the Bobcat community, and it is our aim to do everything within our legal authority to achieve that goal.”
Some national higher education leaders reacted with sharper language. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities and a former president of the University of Michigan, said she was “appalled by this administration’s disregard for the lives of thousands of young people brought to the United States as children. American in every way except birthright, they are upstanding individuals who contribute to their communities and our nation.”
Officials of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities are “profoundly disappointed with, and strongly oppose” the administration’s decision, said Muriel Howard, the organization’s president.
J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees, said he was “dismayed,” adding, “Terminating DACA undercuts our efforts to serve this population by creating additional barriers to postsecondary access, including the ability for some students to receive in-state tuition.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges said the administration’s decision has implications for health care. “Even with the ‘wind down process’ described by the administration, the implications of this action for medical students, medical residents, and researchers with DACA status are serious, and will interfere with their ability to complete their training and contribute meaningfully to the health of the nation,” said its president and CEO, Darrell G. Kirch.