September 4, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Reaffirming Cornell’s Commitment to Dreamers

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Today, the Trump administration is set to announce a decision that could put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Obama administration enacted DACA in 2012 both to protect individuals who entered the United States as minors from deportation and to provide them with work permits. The program allows eligible individuals to defer deportation and legally reside in the U.S. for two years, subject to renewal. Since 2012, the federal government has approved nearly 800,000 renewals, according to CNN.

In the weeks leading up to this anticipated announcement, we have seen numerous reports and studies cite the potential effects of annulling DACA., a pro-immigration reform organization co-founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, found that eliminating DACA could result in the monthly loss of 30,000 work permits as recipients’ statuses expire. The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, projected that ending DACA could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. CAP also reported that New York State stands to lose millions of dollars annually if DACA recipients lose their permits.

While it is important to understand and promulgate such economic defenses of the program, especially when it comes to convincing those less receptive to the intrinsic benefits of DACA,  the Cornell community cannot forget, belittle or ignore that Dreamers comprise and integral part of our Cornell fabric.

No matter what fate the Trump administration decides for DACA, the University must impart trust in the Cornell community that it will remain a sanctuary campus for Dreamers despite any outside pressures. When students, faculty and staff members protested this March for protection against deportation, raids and fear, it is this last protection, from fear, that encapsulates what we  must work hardest to thwart during these unpredictable times.

Fear from the 10 state attorneys general who have provided the Trump administration with an ultimatum to act upon DACA, potentially provoking a decision detrimental to the livelihoods of those in our community; fear of at-will raids by ICE; fear of being pulled out of classes, losing one’s job, home or position in American society. These fears have loomed large since November of 2016.

Not all of us face these fears day in and day out, but as members of the Cornell community, we can at least learn to acknowledge them and recognize that we may only be a degree of separation apart from a friend, family or faculty member who is currently facing them.

Over the last 10 months, campus organizations, students, faculty and staff members have advocated for explicit assurances that Cornell will protect them during this fearful time. Petitions and resolutions supporting sanctuary status for Cornell called on the administration  to denounce acts of violence and hate speech, guarantee funding upon the discontinuation of DACA, assure student safety by preemptively refusing to release students’ private information and provide free legal assistance for DACA students. Cornell has since endorsed these resolutions, and so Dreamers and their allies have placed their trust in the University to protect them. In reading materials for a law school seminar entitled “Law and Trust in Government,” I found one scholar’s explanation of trust to be thought provoking.  He argues that trust is encapsulated in the interest of the trusted, and thus, whether those who hold distinct roles in an organization will be trustworthy correlates with whether it is in their interest to do what is expected or trusted of them to do.

We can trust in Cornell because we have leaders who have an interest and desire to see Dreamers develop, inspire and continually strengthen the Cornell community. The evidence lies in President Pollack’s letter to President Trump, urging him to “allow DACA to continue as it has” for the past five years and recognizing that DACA students “have grown up in our culture, and are succeeding here, despite challenges and obstacles that you and I can only imagine.” Further evidence lies in the University’s immediate response to the violence and hate speech in Charlottesville, along with last week’s decision against eliminating the Foreign Student Employment Program.

While well over a century old, Cornell’s motto of creating an institution where any person can pursue any study rings loud and clear today. Regardless of today’s announcement, University administrators will remain committed to protecting our University’s Dreamers.


Dara Brown ’13 is a second-year student at Cornell University Law School. She is the graduate student member of the Board of Trustees. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.