The Trump administration’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) earlier this month is unlikely to threaten Kenyon students, according to Kenyon administrators. DACA granted deferred action for deportation and eligibility for work permits to some individuals who had entered the country without documents prior to their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007. This means that while they remained undocumented, these “Dreamers” could live and work in the United States without threat of deportation for a renewable two-year period. The Obama administration established the program in June of 2012.
Although Kenyon is not officially designated as a sanctuary campus, it functions as such, and its policies and practices that protect undocumented students remain the same. Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 emphasized the threat of Kenyon students being directly targeted by this decision is “highly unlikely.”
This is because Kenyon’s status as a college gives it the tools to protect student privacy in most cases. President Decatur and Center for Global Engagement (CGE) Director Marne Ausec both highlighted that Kenyon follows the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) guidelines for all students. On top of that, Ausec emphasized that “when you work with immigration, there are just things you say and things you don’t say and that has not changed.”
Following Attorney General Jeff Session’s announcement on Sept. 5 about DACA being rescinded, Bonham sent an email to the student body that underscored the College’s commitment to diversity and told members of the community to refer anyone who questions them about a student, faculty or staff member’s immigration status to Ausec. The College has also reached out to those directly impacted.
Jacky Neri Arias ’13, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), pointed out that the United States Department of Homeland Security lacks the resources to come to Kenyon’s campus.
As President Decatur highlighted, it is not just about Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the federal government.
“There are also folks from the media, folks who may put information out on social media which might put a member of the community in a vulnerable position,” Decatur said, “and so I think it is always just better to respect the privacy of members of the community.”
Bonham’s email to the student body on Sept. 5 stated, “As a general practice, Kenyon does not share information about the immigration status of our students and employees unless required by law.” Bonham explained that the only instance in which the College would be mandated to share information regarding a student’s immigration status would be if the College were subpoenaed.
Jeff Stewart, a coordinator of the Immigrant Worker Project in Canton, Ohio, said a subpoena would require proof of an imminent danger or an underlying criminal act. The Immigrant Worker Project supports migrant laborers that come to work in Ohio and Stewart describes DACA’s impact on the state as “a harsh blow.”
“For the students attending schools this isn’t going to be an issue,” he said. ICE and Border Patrol said in separate memorandums in 2011 and 2013, respectively, that educational institutions, hospitals and churches would be considered sensitive locations. These policies have not been affected by the decision to rescind DACA. ICE will act contrary to the sensitive location designation only in exigent circumstances or when prior approval is obtained from a designated supervisory official, which Stewart indicated is a difficult term to define.
Sensitive locations, defined in a 2011 ICE memo, are locations where arrests, interviews, searches and surveillance should not be enforced. This designation is distinct from that of a sanctuary campus, in which a college makes a decision to enact policies to ensure that the sensitive location memorandum is actually enforced. Neri Arias said that though Kenyon is not officially designated as a sanctuary campus, it functions as such.
Ausec described what this means by saying, “You can tell who you are talking to because we’ll never mention a name,” she said. “Is that a policy? No. Is that good practice? Yes.”
Since the sensitive location memorandum represents agency policy and not a statute or regulation, it could legally be withdrawn or modified at any time.
Another concern is DACA recipient privacy. “If they have lodged an application with DACA, the U.S. government knows where they live,” explained Eric Thornton ’18, who worked with some DACA cases as an intern with the Immigrant Worker Project this past summer. In exchange for the security of deferred action, DACA recipients had to give up a lot of their information to the government.
As Neri Arias pointed out, even before DACA’s repeal; the College had these protections in place.
“I really want to stress that, that these are issues that any immigrant has always been facing,” she said. “So suddenly people that did not face these issues are now really worried about it, so I would encourage students to use that concern, to channel that energy into something that they can do.”
And there are broader implications of DACA beyond the Hill.
Stewart referenced the DACA recipients he knew, some working in the military or Fortune 500 companies, who had built their lives in Ohio.
“And just to rip that away,” Stewart said. “I think that is going to be a blow in many communities across Ohio, to both the social fabric of those communities and also the economic well-being.”
Moreover, Stewart referenced how many of these DACA recipients are married to permanent legal residents or US citizens.
“Now these families that felt secure are going to be facing the possibility of becoming fragmented and fractured through the process of people who may be put into the process of deportation or removal proceedings,” he said.
Thornton echoed that the way in which DACA was rescinded just makes people vulnerable and scared again.
Reinstating DACA protections
For Ohio and the country, any hope of reinstating these protections lies in Congress’ hands. Trump has given them a six-month window of time before DACA expires, during which certain DACA recipients may reapply to maintain their status. Both Thornton and Stewart emphasized that there is certainly no guarantee of legislation, which would have to be bipartisan in a polarized political climate.
Ohio senators Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) emphasized their support for congressional action now that DACA had been repealed.
In a press release, Portman voiced his support for “bipartisan efforts for a permanent solution that will allow those in the DACA program to stay here and contribute to our society.”
Brown endorsed the DREAM Act, essentially a congressional version of DACA, but also condemned the repeal as “targeting young people who are … contributing to this country.”
Ohio governor John Kasich (R), a critic of the president, said on “CBS This Morning” that it should take “reasonable” members of Congress “six hours” to compose legislation to handle DACA, and that DACA recipients should come to Ohio if they want to go somewhere and live.
On campus, as Neri Arias and Bonham continually chose to focus, it is about ensuring all students that come to campus can achieve their goals, no matter where or under what circumstances they may be coming from.
An important aspect of that, as Decatur and Neri Arias emphasized, is to continue respecting student privacy and remaining committed to their success.
“Kenyon really, truly, has supported undocumented students over time,” Neri Arias said, “not just now.”