UCLA student leaders are advocating for a federal bill to provide permanent protections for undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children.
President Donald Trump announced in September the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2012. The program has helped thousands of undocumented individuals procure the documentation necessary to get jobs, open bank accounts and obtain driver’s licenses in certain states. On Tuesday, following a lawsuit from the University of California and other groups, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from ending the programs.
Chloe Pan, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president, said she thinks Congress needs to pass a proposed bill called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would replace DACA and provide undocumented individuals with the legal status necessary to join the military or enter college.
The DREAM Act, first proposed in 2001, was voted down by Congress in 2010. Hiroshi Motomura, a professor of law specializing in immigration, said the Senate passed a more comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, but it did not become law because congressional leadership in the House of Representatives refused to allow a vote on it.
“You have not had a Republican leadership that has been willing to let the entire House of Representatives vote on (immigration reform),” Motomura said.
Motomura said he thinks Congress should pass legislation like the DREAM Act because DACA is a temporary solution protecting undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children.
“(DACA) didn’t really give anybody legal status, it just said that, ‘You are a low priority for deportation,’” he said.
Motomura said although polls show many Americans, including Republicans, support the DREAM Act, many lawmakers will support the bill only if it includes other provisions, such as increased border security.
“The unfortunate thing is that a lot of people who support it are unwilling to give up something they want if they don’t get something in return,” he said.
Several student leaders have participated in efforts to lobby lawmakers to support a clean version of the bill that is not conditional upon enacting other immigration policies, such as a border wall.
Pan and USAC Office of the External Vice President campus organizing director Christine Tran demonstrated in Washington, D.C. last month in support of the bill, and were briefly detained after holding a sit-in at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office. Following media coverage of the arrest, Feinstein voted against a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown because it did not provide protection for DACA recipients. The spending bill passed in the Senate 66-32 despite Feinstein’s vote against it.
“We sat down and said, ‘We’re here to stay until Sen. Feinstein promised to withhold her vote on a spending bill, unless it comes with a clean DREAM Act,’” Tran said.
Pan said she thinks it is important that any legislation to protect undocumented students not come with additional provisions, such as increased funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, because many DACA recipients have family members who are undocumented and are not protected by the program.
“It’s really important that when we talk about immigration reform, it’s done in a manner that doesn’t support young immigrants at the cost of realizing or criminalizing their parents,” she said.
Parshan Khosravi, Graduate Students Association vice president of external affairs, said he thinks student advocacy played an important role in convincing Feinstein to vote against the spending bill. He added he spent two days in November with the Asian American Pacific Islander DACA Collaborative in Washington, D.C. lobbying and demonstrating in support of the bill.
“It took (us) weeks and weeks of organizing to get (Feinstein) to say, ‘I’m going to stand behind DACA and the DREAM Act,’” he said. “It was five weeks of extensive action, taking over her offices.”
Tran said she thinks students’ large numbers will force politicians to listen to their concerns and support a DREAM Act.
“When students come together, politicians listen,” she said.