Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The Immigration Nightmare

Ever since President Trump was sworn into office just a few weeks ago, immigration reform has accelerated substantially. Discussion of “the wall” has been met on Capitol Hill with support from Republican leadership, but also with skepticism on how to pay for it: a wall that could cost more than $15 billion is a project that has no easy resolution. The January 27th Executive Order on travel bans for undocumented individuals from seven countries with large Muslim populations has caused great consternation and deep worries across the country including undocumented students on our Jesuit campuses.

Many of these students are considered “Dreamers” who were brought into the country by their parents when they were young. AJCU has been supportive of the Dream Act since it was first introduced by Jesuit alumnus Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) over ten years ago. Attempts to pass the Dream Act into law have not been achieved, although many efforts have been made through the years.

Out of concern for the "Dreamers," President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2012 that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA), which protects undocumented students and individuals with work permits who entered the country as minors. Individuals enrolled in DACA are guaranteed safety in the United States, cannot be deported, and are eligible for program renewal every two years. President Trump did not include DACA in his original Executive Order on immigration.

During his press conference on February 16th, President Trump said that DACA is a painful issue for him. He also claimed that he had a great heart and that these “kids are just wonderful.” As of this writing, Trump is planning to release a clarifying Executive Order that would encompass the 9th Circuit Federal Court’s rationale for putting a halt to deportation of DACA individuals and other immigrants affected by his original Executive Order.

A number of colleges, universities, cities and even states have responded to overarching immigration concerns by declaring themselves sanctuary institutions or sanctuary cities or states. Unfortunately, the legal protection of those declarations does not exist or is sketchy at best. Last month, the nation's higher education associations, including AJCU, sent a letter initiated by the American Council on Education (ACE) to the new Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, raising concerns on the potential elimination of DACA and requesting a meeting with him. To date, we have not received a response. Seventeen Jesuit institutions were among the 610 institutions across the U.S. that also signed a letter submitted to DHS by ACE to comment on immigration.

AJCU remains very committed to protecting our students and ensuring that DACA remains in place. After the November election, AJCU released a statement from the presidents of AJCU and 27 Jesuit institutions about our beliefs on immigration. Without a doubt, this immigration rule has triggered deep concerns over religious discrimination, and the so-called right of the Federal government to deport individuals who originate from predominantly Muslim countries. AJCU will continue to work on immigration issues with the continued desire to protect the undocumented students on our Jesuit campuses.

The President's first Skinny Budget for FY18 is expected to be released by the Office of Management and Budget near the end of February. We may or may not get a sense of priorities from this minimal budget. The final budget for FY18 will be released at a later date in April or possibly May. The budget process is a precursor to the appropriations process.