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No place for moderates in the DACA debate

"I don't remember much about the time we crossed the border," says Johana Leanos '21, "but my sister tells me there were about six people in each trunk."

Leanos is one of the students studying at Princeton under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. In September, when President Trump moved to end DACA and called on Congress to act within six months before he starts to phase it out, Princeton students and faculty were outraged. For his part, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 wrote a letter to the White House in support of DACA, saying that the "talented and motivated" students the policy protects "came here as a result of decisions made by their parents." Princeton, he maintained, would help the students as much as it legally can. 


Abiding by the law is not enough. Princeton holds privilege and power to do more, and by not rebelling to protect its students beyond the legal guidelines, the University has adopted a weak and morally wrong stance. We have to do more for students like Leanos and for students that are even less fortunate.

When President Eisgruber says that students under DACA are not to blame here, he implies that the decisions of their parents are. And sure, crossing the border without legal authorization is a crime in court. 

But there was a time when segregation was the law and black students were denied entry to institutions of higher learning. There was a time when women, by law, were not allowed to vote. There was a time when Japanese immigrants were put into internment camps.

Would Eisgruber have respected the law during those periods, or would he have defended those who were incapable of defending themselves? Would he have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or would he have respected the law? 

I recognize that Eisgruber is a constitutional scholar and understands the implications of breaking the law better than I do. Further, by resisting the law, he would be engaged in a controversial debate that could make him seem anti-pluralistic for students who are not pro-DACA.

(When reached for comment, Eisgruber deferred comment to Vice President of Communications, Daniel Day, who declined to comment.)


But change is never easy. It’s never accepted without any backlash, and not everyone is in a position to lead it. Princeton is. President Eisgruber is.

The consequences of breaking the law should not outweigh our duty to each other. To deport Leanos, who came here when she was one year old and attends Princeton despite the obstacles life threw at her, just because it is the law is cruel and anti-American. “I am the living representation of the American dream,” she says. And that should be something we can agree on as Americans. 

This is a moral problem, and President Eisgruber has to treat it like one. “There is a time when you think about funding and donors but this is not that time,” says Leanos. “The DACA community is asking him to not only protect them, but stand by them.”

Eisgruber is playing it safe. But time is running out for us to be moderate.

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Aisha Tahir is a freshman from Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at