State college leaders blast DACA decision; some optimistic lawmakers will come up with fix

State college leaders blast DACA decision; some optimistic lawmakers will come up with fix


Leaders of the state’s public universities were critical Tuesday of a decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to “wind down” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could impact over 10,000 youth in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, the head of an organization that serves the Wallingford Latino community said she is hopeful Congress will find a permanent solution to help the young immigrants.

DACA has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the program, established through executive order in 2012 by President Barack Obama, “an unconstitutional exercise of authority.”

Sessions said the government will stop processing new applications under DACA. The Trump administration is giving Congress six months to find a legislative fix before the government stops renewing permits for those already covered by the program.

Maria Campos-Harlow, executive director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford, said the announcement was “heartbreaking,” but she is hopeful that Congress will come up with a plan.

“I do think there is a great opportunity for Congress to come together and finally come up with a permanent solution,” Campos-Harlow said. “It’s good to put some pressure on Congress to really take this on seriously.”

Many families in Wallingford have mixed statuses, she said. For example, one child may be a legal citizen born in the U.S. while a sibling isn’t because they were born in another country before the family came to the U.S.

Campos-Harlow said there is a large Hispanic community in Wallingford. Some are undocumented and have children who benefit from DACA, she said. “Children that came here at a very young age, this is the country that they know,” Campos-Harlow said.

“People need to understand that this is something that matters not only to Hispanics and immigrants, but our entire community,” she added.

Mark Ojakian, president of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said the decision will have a “devastating impact on some of the state’s best students.”

Ojakian leads 17 state colleges and universities, including Middlesex Community College, which has a campus in Meriden.

“These DACA students were brought as children to the United States and for many of them, Connecticut is the only place they’ve called home,” he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday over 10,000 youth in the state are protected through DACA.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said students in the DACA program enrolled at UConn have “proven themselves to be talented, hard-working and ambitious, which is how they gained admission and why they are succeeding academically.”

“Today’s action would have us turn our backs on them,” she said. “That is cruel, unjustified and ultimately self-defeating.”

The impact of the decision on local school districts wasn’t clear. School leaders from Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Harlow-Campos said there are students in the Wallingford school system that benefit from DACA. Southington School Superintendent Timothy Connellan said that, as of Tuesday, “we have not been made aware of any (Southington public school) students who are affected by this decision.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation as more information becomes available,” he said.

Malloy urged Congress to “act swiftly” to reverse the decision.

Sessions’ announcement came the same day as a deadline set by a group of Republican state officials who said they would challenge DACA in court unless the Trump administration rescinded the program.

Malloy said Trump’s “wrong-minded decision to turn back the clock on DACA is completely nonsensical.”

“Denying these youths with access to work opportunities and affordable higher education goes against the very core of who we are,” he said. “The fact is, pushing these young, gifted individuals into the shadows not only diminishes their chance for a bright future, but it darkens ours, too.”

Sheila Hayre, a visiting law professor at Quinnipiac University, said the decision punishes innocent young people.

“Essentially punishing children for the actions of their parents,” she said. “The irony is that Attorney General Sessions cites ‘the rule of law’ for ending DACA, when in fact programs like DACA promote the rule of law by asking individuals to come forward and present themselves to immigration and regularize their status.”

Schools across the country, including Quinnipiac, she said, “now have to worry whether their DACA and undocumented students will be too afraid to call the police, go to the hospital to receive emergency medical aid or even apply for a restraining order.” 203-317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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