Over 170 University affiliates have signed an open letter in support of students enrolled in or eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as the publication of this article. The letter was drafted and posted by Engaged Faculty of Princeton University on Sept. 5.
“We are against the unfair deportation and intimidation that prevents students raised and educated in the United States from contributing to our university and our nation,” the letter reads. “Therefore, we the undersigned pledge to do everything in our power to enable our DACA students to thrive at Princeton and in our courses. We oppose ending DACA and are committed to providing a safe and welcoming place for all students, regardless of status.”
The White House signaled this week that it intends to end DACA, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation provided they register with the government and meet certain eligibility criteria. The faculty’s open letter was posted on the same day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced the end of the Obama-era immigration program, asserting that “there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”
Wendy Belcher, associate professor of African literature, created EFPU as an internal email group nine months ago after President Trump’s election “to provide interested faculty at Princeton with information on the progressive issues they care about.”
According to Belcher, EFPU “aids members in responding rapidly to current events.” This allowed the group to draft and post the open letter the same day that President Trump announced his intention to end DACA.
Peter Brooks, professor of comparative literature and the Center for Human Values, explained that he thinks it imperative to express his support for DACA and sign the open letter as a means of peaceful resistance to what he described as an issue of morality.
“When those in power encroach upon what I think is morally defensible, I think it is my duty to resist peacefully and to urge others — again, peacefully — to do the same,” he said. “President Obama’s DACA program seemed to me a clear act of moral justice, protecting those whose presence here [in the United States], even if illegal, was not their own doing, and who in vast majority sought to become law-abiding and productive citizens of the U.S.”
Brooks also responded to the argument that DACA was defective because it presumed to exercise legislative power by conferring positive legal benefits on a category of aliens.
“It would be good to have DACA win congressional approval, even better if that were to be part of an intelligent general address to immigration issues,” he said. “Since that currently seems unlikely, it is the responsibility of the executive to protect, not to persecute, these members of our community. And to the extent that we in the Princeton community can help protect the threatened among us, I believe we must.”
Politics professor Melissa Lane, director of the Center for Human Values and another of the letter’s signatories, said that she was shocked and dismayed to hear of the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA. She also touched upon the uncertainty that University students connected to DACA could face in the coming months.
“If DACA is not continued, its end would threaten to push these Princeton students and many others into the margins of society, where they would be prey for exploitation or expulsion, rather than being able to contribute to this society as they have done and are working and studying with determination to continue to do,” she explained.
Lane also responded to the view that DACA was an Obama overreach on executive authority.
“In my view, DACA did not change the laws; it changed the focus of prosecutorial discretion, which is within the prerogative of the executive to do,” she said. “But in any case, the proper forum to decide the question of its constitutionality is the judiciary. To end the program by fiat rather than let the courts decide on any challenge to it is to impose a traumatic upheaval on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people — and the many more who depend on them as coworkers, fellow students, family members, and friends — that the courts might well ultimately have decided was not necessary at all.”
Faculty signatories also expressed support for University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and his decision to urge congressional leaders “to place the highest priority on legislation that would provide both immediate and long-term protection for young people who have been enrolled in or are eligible for [DACA].”
Eisgruber joined many university and college administrators throughout the country in denouncing the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA.
University of California president and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano explained that “this backward-thinking, far-reaching move threatens to separate families and derail the futures of some of this country’s brightest young minds.”
The open letter is still being circulated amongst University faculty. Faculty members who signed were encouraged by EFPU to persuade colleagues to do the same.