A call for certainty

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

President Trump spared those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status from deportation priority in his most recent immigration enforcement orders. With that one act, which demonstrated grace and humanity, he reminds us anew of the great power of forbearance.

My heart goes out to those who seek legal means to live and work in the United States, especially our DACA students whose immigration circumstances are largely understood to be not of their own doing.

It soon will be five years since DACA was put into effect by President Obama through executive policy. Students who were kindergartners at the time are now heading to middle school; high-school students are now heading to college. At our three public universities, 240 students have lawful presence as a result of the DACA order and are granted a temporary exemption from immigration enforcement action.

And yet, even with President Trump's current extension of his predecessor's policy, DACA students have no more certainty today than they did when DACA was enacted.

There is considerable debate about the ability of a president to extend immigration policy through his own executive authority without the participation of Congress. Meanwhile, Congress as a whole has proven itself either unwilling or unable to find a solution to our country's immigration problems. As a result, DACA students remain in limbo.

I am reminded of the words of the late great Jake Flake, a rancher, sage and former house speaker from Snowflake: It may not be right, but it's so.

Although the number of DACA students on our campuses today is small, tens of thousands of young Arizonans will potentially be involved in the outcomes of the coming federal policy decisions that must be made.

To them, "DACA" is much more than a political or legal debate, it is utterly foundational to their chances for success in life.

At the last meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents, several students stepped forward to speak during our call to the audience. They used their time to request "sanctuary" for DACA students. Sanctuary unfortunately has no clear or practical meaning.

While it would be easy to join the parade of promises intended to make people feel better about situations beyond their control, offers of sanctuary are mostly meaningless.

What we can offer is our best for students, all students, including DACA students.

That starts with respect. This includes a refusal to participate in the political parlor game of "what if" scenarios that can increase anxieties and tensions without contributing to the advancement of truth. Our universities have extended counseling services to students affected by the immigration orders.

It includes compassion. I don't condone unlawful immigration and am sickened by the trafficking of adults and children involved. I do, however, understand well the drive of good people risking everything for a better life: I myself am the daughter of an immigrant. My father was born during the occupation of eastern France in World War II. His mother found a way to send him to the United States, legally, in the hope of making a better life for himself than if he stayed there with her. He studied at a public university and earned his American citizenship after serving in the U.S. Army. I treasure every day the sacrifice my family made that made me an American, and I have great empathy for others with the desire and drive to become American citizens.

Importantly, we will revere the rule of law. As a public official and employee, I, along with every employee of the public university system are bound to uphold the Constitution and the law, including the civil and legal rights afforded to all students. Our universities work with students to help them understand their rights, as well as their responsibilities. We are committed to the safety of students - all students - each and every day.

Finally, we will continue to fight for meaningful change. Many of the pending citizenship, residence and travel visa issues wrapped up in the border security and immigration debate impact our students, faculty and staff. We will continue to urge our elected federal officials to take swift action that protects our borders, facilitates legal immigration and American opportunity, and supports our thriving public university enterprise.

Chief among those reforms should be actions to create a definitive legal status for law-abiding DACA students. The time has come to end the uncertainty that our DACA students live with every day. This recent reprieve brings new opportunity for the president to work with Congress to that end so that they can have at least that bit of certainty in this uncertain world.

Arizona is a growing and diverse state, important to the nation's economic and social future. We are home to some of the nation's largest public universities. For years, we have been at the forefront of the border and immigration issues. Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have demonstrated admirable leadership on border security and immigration matters, recognizing their importance to America's security and economy but never forgetting the impact on people.

Arizona's public university enterprise leadership stands at the ready to work with our senators to lead an effort to end this legal limbo and provide a path forward for DACA students.

In his speech to a joint session of Congress yesterday, President Trump shared his vision for America as a nation empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears. For the sake of our students, I hope it becomes so.