12/09/17 – Medford/Somerville, MA –A group of Tufts students listened carefully to the speakers at the rally in response to the Trump administration's ending of DACA on Sept. 12, 2017. (Angelie Xiong / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts students protest DACA elimination

More than 60 Tufts students protested yesterday against the current presidential administration’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, gathering at the lower patio of the Mayer Campus Center. The program, according to a White House press release, will be phased out over six months, with no new applications accepted.

The protest was organized by Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ) and opened with a short speech by a student named Juan. Juan stood atop a table and spoke through a bullhorn about being smuggled into the United States aboard a van.

“I remember feeling this intense feeling of hope when we crossed the border, the likes of which I never felt before,” Juan said.

Juan also discussed his enrollment in the DACA program, which he said opened many doors for him in America.

“[DACA] gave me the opportunity to work,” he said. “It also made higher education a lot more accessible for me as it opened the door for many scholarships and allowed me to travel the country without fear of being arrested by ICE.”

Since its creation in 2012, DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the country under the age of 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation. The approximately 800,000 enrollees in DACA, none of whom had been convicted of a crime, were able to work and attend school as a result of the program. Former Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin announced in April 2015 that Tufts would accept undocumented students, including but not limited to students with DACA status.

But while DACA brought such benefits to many of the student speakers, it came only after they had lived through childhoods marked by a constant fear of deportation, the speakers said. One student, Alejandro, described a sense of betrayal when his parents told him at age 8 to remain wary of immigration officers.

“I felt hollow and cold when I learned that I was hated by the country I called home,” he said.

With the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 decision to rescind the program, the students, not all of whom said they were enrolled in DACA, described the return of uncertainty. One student named Diego said the government is at fault.

“We are left in a state where the government is ineffective and we don’t know if they are going to provide any support to all these students, all these Americans who are fighting for a place in society,” he said.

During the protest, speakers also refuted what they said was the media’s unfair representation of America’s undocumented population. Alejandro presented the situation in the context of his own family.

“I wish to prove to everyone that my mother isn’t a drug dealer, my father isn’t a rapist, my brother isn’t a criminal and I am not the worst that Mexico is sending,” he said.

At the close of the event, a student named Alejandra told the crowd that they need to learn about immigration issues including DACA and the DREAM Act, a proposed piece of legislation that could open a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors.

“This bill will not only be a relief from deportation for approximately two million youths, the act will offer a path to citizenship and employment,” she said, explaining that the DACA program did not go far enough to help the undocumented population. “We need to push for something bigger. Something that will provide us citizenship, that will provide us safety, that will provide us humanity.”

Dean Alan Solomont of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life attended the rally to express his personal support for the students as well as represent Tisch College, which he said did not work with the students in organizing the protest but was aware of its occurrence.

“Many of us took a few minutes out to show support [for the students],” Solomont said.

Students in attendance at the rally were supportive of the speakers’ cause.

“It takes so much bravery and courage to stand up on those tables and share your story,” a first-year student named Sophia told the Daily.

She also said that the campus environment played a part in staging the protest.

“The students who spoke of their life stories here did it because they feel safe here at Tufts,” she said, calling Tufts a “safe haven for a lot of people.”

Klielle Glanzberg-Krainin, a senior who attended the protest, was similarly impressed with the bravery of the students who spoke and attended the protest to show support.

“Defending DACA is of the utmost importance at this moment,” Glanzberg-Krainin said. “Specifically showing Tufts and the undocumented students here that there is support for [DACA] is also really important.”

Tufts reiterated its support for undocumented students on the same day that Trump decided to phase out DACA, in an email to the school community from University President Anthony Monaco.

Additionally, Tufts filed a declaration alongside a Sept. 6 lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as other attorneys general, opposing the decision to end the program. The complaint stated that more than 25 Tufts students are enrolled in DACA.

“The Trump administration’s decision is fundamentally unfair,” Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mary Jeka said in a statement to the Daily. “We remain committed to honoring our promises to our DACA and undocumented students and to providing them with continued support, which includes financial aid, legal services, counseling, and assistance from the Office of the Associate Dean for Student Success and Advising.”

Editor’s Note: Many of the students interviewed and quoted in this article did not provide their last names due to safety concerns. In particular, several students quoted are current enrollees in the DACA program.

Amanda Rose contributed reporting to this article.

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