The end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has the potential to impact colleges and universities simply because it allowed children brought illegally into the country to attend school without fear of deportation.
But gauging that potential impact is difficult, if not impossible.
“We’re not aware of any,” Wilkes University Communications Director Gabrielle D’Amico said when asked if the school had any idea of how many so-called “dreamers” might be enrolled.
“That’s not to say there are none here,” she added. “We don’t track or identify them.”
Wilkes political science Professor Tom Baldino similarly said he doesn’t know if any “dreamers” are in his classes. “We don’t have to ask,” he said. “I can tell you I have probably half-a-dozen Latino students in my classrooms, but I don’t know if they are illegal or not. They are there for an education, and I’m there to teach them.”
DACA was put into effect by President Barack Obama in 2012. Baldino noted Obama opted to do it via executive order after he had asked Congress to take action without result.
It was open to people who were under age 31 on June 15, 2012, who came to the United States before turning 16, and who have continuously lived in the country since June 2007. A person also had to have no criminal record, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school.
If eligible, they could get two-year, renewable permits protecting them from deportation. It is estimated the program has allowed 800,000 such immigrants to work and study here. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has estimated nearly 5,900 have been involved in the program in Pennsylvania, though Baldino suspects that estimate is low.
Baldino said however one feels about the goals of the program, it was unlikely to withstand a constitutional challenge. An injunction was ordered by a federal court in Texas and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 during a time it was short one justice due to the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
With Scalia replaced by conservative Neil Gorsuch this year, Baldino said the odds of a 5-4 ruling against the DACA program rank high.
The Catholic Church has supported retaining “the principle that DACA embodied,” Baldino said. “That you don’t punish kids for the crimes of parents.” Business leaders have also pushed for retaining the program or some variation, because it has led to “a rough estimate of 800,000 young people being gainfully employed or in school, and they are working jobs employers couldn’t otherwise fill.”
The administration plans to cancel the program in six months, with Trump urging legislative action. But Baldino said that, if past is prologue, that’s unlikely to happen. Republicans control both the House and Senate, but there are factions that are dead-set against any form of DACA, which means legislative leaders would have to look across the aisle for support. Such a move, particularly in the House, would bring wrath from many Republicans and possibly Trump himself.
Republicans continue to face the same problem, Baldino said. “You have a numerical majority that gives you control, but do you have a working majority to pass legislation?”