Eight-hundred thousand immigrant youth, some of whom are your peers and friends at UCLA, are hanging by a thread because of partisan politics.
The recent U.S. government shutdown – which started Friday night – was largely prompted by the debate between those who support these 800,000 immigrant youth and those who are using them as a bargaining chip to demand repressive immigration policies.
Last year, President Donald Trump’s administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an action that would eliminate protection from deportation and work authorization for youth brought to the U.S. as children. The DACA program’s protections will begin to expire in March.
The DACA program has been a lifeline for immigrant youth. It enables them to no longer live in fear of deportation and allows them to use their experience and education to legally work and contribute to the U.S. As per a study by Tom Wong, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, the program has contributed, on average, to an increase of over 40 percent in wages for immigrant youth as they are no longer forced to work exclusively in the underground economy where exploitation and abuse are rampant.
The DACA program impacts the UCLA community, and its removal threatens our classmates and colleagues. There are about 700 DACA recipients enrolled at UCLA as students, and about 150 DACA recipients who are UCLA employees. The elimination of DACA would not only negatively impact immigrant youth and their families but would also hurt our society as a whole. It would prevent undocumented immigrants from contributing to our economy and society, and would intensify immigrant family separation and suffering.
We can’t escape it: These consequences will hit especially close to home if we do not act.
The UC community has a history of fighting for undocumented students. UCLA students and alumni have been leading the fight to keep the DACA program from expiring, as they did for the passage of the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which became law in 2011 and greatly expanded the enrollment of and financial aid resources for undocumented students in higher education throughout California. The University of California also sued the Trump administration over its elimination of the DACA program, and temporarily prevented the Trump administration from ending it.
But we can do more than wait for the lawsuit. Students and alumni can demand a fix now by passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that has sat in Congress since 2001. It would provide undocumented immigrant youth who complete two years of college or service in the U.S. military a pathway to legalization and citizenship.
A clean DREAM Act without any anti-immigrant provisions, such as building Trump’s absurd border wall or intensifying deportations, would go a long way in securing the safety and rights of immigrant youth who have always called the U.S. their home. Some leading members of Congress, including Sen. Kamala Harris, have made passing the DREAM Act a central demand in federal budget negotiations, but anti-immigrant forces instead provoked the government shutdown.
Countless people throughout the country mobilized in December to support passage of the clean DREAM Act. At the end of fall quarter, students and allies of the UCLA Downtown Labor Center joined with FWD.us, UndocuMedia and the Dream Resource Center to hold a phone bank where volunteers contacted members of Congress and urged them to pass the clean DREAM Act.
Nationwide, demonstrations and press conferences are being held regularly, especially in the nation’s capital. The UCLA community should do all it can to support these efforts by calling members of Congress, participating in press events and public rallies and encouraging our colleagues and classmates to take action.
We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have been and continue to be part of the very fabric of society, and our economy is wholly dependent on their labor. The UCLA community should stand united for civil and human rights, and for just and humane immigration policies. A clean DREAM Act achieves those ideals.
Mora is a UCLA alum and co-founder of UndocuMedia, a nonprofit organization that employs digital tools to inform immigrants in the U.S. Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center.