Penn State

Penn State supports DACA students, hopes to ease fears

After the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States on Nov. 8, members of the immigrant community, nationally and locally, are on edge about what immigration policy might look like under a Trump administration, but Penn State is taking steps to ease the fears.

Last week, university President Eric Barron signed a letter in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy started by the Obama administration in 2012. As of Thursday, the letter has more than 400 signatures of university and college presidents throughout the country.

“Many DACA beneficiaries are outstanding contributors not only to our university but also to our country,” Barron said in a statement. “These individuals have pursued opportunities in countless areas including business, education, technology, medical and legal, and continue to make a positive economic and social impact on our society.”

DACA is a policy that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16 to receive protection from deportation. The immigrants can also become eligible for a work permit.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, said Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign has made members of the immigrant community feel exposed and vulnerable. She said the first call concerning Trump’s potential immigration policy came to the center at 3 a.m. the night of the election.

“I feel after this election an even greater moral and professional responsibility to do everything possible to make sure that members of our community receive accurate information,” Wadhia said.

Shortly after the election, Wadhia constructed an “Immigration after the Election” page on the clinic’s website. The page is a comprehensive guide to resources available for the immigrant community as well as the broader community. The page offers information on existing policy as well as an explanation of what Trump may or may not do during his first days in office, but Wadhia said it’s difficult to forecast how much of the campaign rhetoric will become reality.

If Trump follows through on campaign promises, such as a “Muslim ban,” one avenue for implementation is to utilize the remaining regulatory structure of the Nation Security Entry and Exit Registration System.

NSEERS was created after the events on 9/11 as a way to register certain non-citizens inside of the United States. The most controversial part of the program targeted males who were visitors to the United States and who came from predominantly Muslim majority countries, according to Wadhia.

“The program itself was riddled with inefficiencies and local immigration offices were not resourced or staffed to handle registrations,” Wadhia said. “National security experts and leaders might tell you that you may not find the next terrorist by calling in groups of people based on their nationality, or citizenship or their religion rather your going to find the next terrorist through good intelligence.”

In April 2011, a notice was published by the Obama administration de-listing the countries that were part of NSEERS program and effectively ending the program. But the structure of the program was not eliminated, which leaves the door open for a Trump administration to resurrect the program.

On Nov. 21, 200 civil and human rights, civil liberties, education, social justice and interfaith organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging the administration to rescind NSEERS as a way to stop any future use of the program. Wadhia supervised a report in 2012 that outlined issues with the program. Statistics from the report appeared in the letter to Obama.

The letter was issued following an Associated Press story about a photo of Kansas Secretary of State and Trump immigration adviser Kris Kobach that revealed notes he was taking into a meeting with Trump. The photo showed a “Department of Homeland Security Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.” The plan suggested to “update and reintroduce” NSEERS.

Wadhia said she believes a Trump version of NSEERS or implementation of a “Muslim ban,” which Trump has suggested, would be unconstitutional and challenged in court.

While all of the hypothesizing about potential Trump policy and how it might affect documented and undocumented immigrants will continue, Wadhia said the immigrant community is not to be underestimated.

“There is also determination and a sense of empowerment within immigrant communities. And I don’t necessarily see dreamers or students or the 700,000 plus people with DACA all sitting on the sidelines,” Wadhia said. “They certainly have reason to fear, but on the other hand they’re not a quiet group and they may feel more empowered to do more.”

The immigrant community, and much of the nation, is waiting to see what Trump policy will look like, but in the interim, the focus of Wadhia and the clinic is to ensure the more vulnerable populations and the larger Penn State community are receiving accurate information.

The “Immigration after the Election” guide can be seen on the Penn State Law website.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi