Colleges Advise Traveling DACA Students To Return To U.S. Before Trump's Inauguration

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Colleges and universities are advising undocumented students who are traveling abroad to return to the U.S. before Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.

The schools are concerned that if Trump makes good on his promise to rescind all of President Obama's executive orders, students granted temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, could find themselves prevented from re-entering the country.

Awaiting Trump Action On DACA

Harvard sophomore Daishi Tanaka arrived in Los Angeles from Japan with his parents 13 years ago, when he was 6.

"I walked into my first grade classroom and I saw the diversity — everyone of all shapes, colors, sizes, personalities melding to one under the flag, and that, I loved," Tanaka recalled. But while Tanaka felt he melded with other Americans under the flag, his adopted country had officially marked him as not belonging — until President Obama intervened.

Tanaka is among the hundreds of thousands of young people granted temporary protected status by the Obama administration under DACA because their parents brought them illegally to the U.S. as children and they grew up in this country.

In Massachusetts, universities are quietly counseling students like Tanaka to make sure if they are traveling that they are back in the U.S. by Jan. 20, the day Trump will be inaugurated.

California's public universities, in contrast, have taken the lead in issuing public warnings. Cal State is telling students who have temporary relief from deportation and are studying abroad to return to the U.S. before the inauguration. The University of California is advising students who received reprieves from deportation to be aware of the risks of being out of the country with Trump becoming president next month.

Tanaka recalled the extreme hardships his parents suffered living in the U.S. without legal documents.

"When I went back home to California, they were living in a garage because they were taking care of the elderly, and they were extremely underpaid," Tanaka said. "They were really mistreated and manipulated by their employer, and all because they don't have the formal rights and the formal legal protection. My dad used to work for a Trump supporter. It's ironic."

Last summer, Tanaka's parents returned to the Philippines and Japan, where they are from.

"I had been planning to go to Japan this winter to see my parents," Tanaka said. "There seemed to be a sentiment that I should be back before Jan. 20."

The decisions about whether to risk travel abroad come amid a broader worry that even if DACA students are in the U.S., they could be deported.

"Trump has said that he's going to take away their status," said associate professor Laila Hlass, who directs the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Boston University Law School. "He's going to take away all the executive orders under President Obama, so it's very likely that the DACA students may be undocumented yet again. And now the immigration agency has all of their information, so they could easily be put onto a deportation list, and they could be prioritized, if that's what this administration wants to do."

But, Hlass says, her general advice to DACA students is to wait and see, and to stay in touch. She also tells DACA students they may have other options to stay in the country.

"A lot of students came to these clinics to try to get DACA and people realize they're actually eligible for a pathway to a green card and to citizenship," she said.

Hlass says some could be eligible as immigrant juveniles, or because they are the children of women who have been assaulted.

"Some of them may have other relatives who can petition for them through a family visa," Hlass said. "Some of them are survivors of serious crimes."

A 'Highly Discretionary' Status

At Boston College Law School, associate professor Mary Holper is director of the immigration clinic. She's organizing efforts to reach out to DACA students and students who have yet to apply for DACA.

"If you haven't applied yet, it's pretty risky to apply because you could be putting yourself on the list for deportation," Holper said. "You have to put your addresses on the application. You could be putting at risk anybody in your family."

That said, Holper points out that Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, is proposing legislation that would protect DACA recipients.

Holper says students who already have DACA but must renew are risking very little.

"Because they already know about you, so to the extent that Trump is going to use this — I hope he won't — as a list for deportation, you're already on it, so to me that risk seems very low," Holper said.

Still, with Trump's inauguration approaching, Holper is warning DACA students who are currently out of the U.S. for study abroad or other reasons.

"I would say come home before, because the advanced parole that they were given is still highly discretionary," Holper said. "Every single time you come back in the border, you are facing the individual discretion of the officer that lets you in at the airport, and that officer is going to have a different boss with different priorities come January, and so I would say come home."

This segment aired on December 21, 2016.


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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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