Students, faculty respond to DACA rescission with disappointment, outcry

Institute stands resolute against repeal, pledges to assist affected students

Members of the MIT community took action against President Donald Trump’s Sept. 5 repeal of the immigration program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protected eligible illegal immigrant youth from deportation.

The MIT administration provided the students affected by the rescission with the opportunity to work with an immigration lawyer, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said in a call with The Tech Monday.

DACA is an Obama-era policy that allows some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and a work permit. Trump repeatedly pledged to repeal DACA during his presidential campaign.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif advised against the repeal in an editorial in The Boston Globe, Aug. 31. “Repeal strikes me as a violation of deep American principles,” Reif wrote. “They are undocumented through no fault of their own.”

The Trump administration gave Congress six months to act before phasing out DACA, the repeal of which would affect nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants. Fifteen states, including Massachusetts, filed suit against Trump in federal court to block the repeal Sept. 6.

MIT Associate Professors Roger Levy and Tamar Schapiro were arrested at a Sept. 7 protest in Harvard Square denouncing the repeal.

“[The repeal] follows a pattern of scapegoating immigrants for problems that have much more complex causes,” Schapiro said in a call with The Tech. “The administration is engaging in arbitrary, unsystematic, and unprincipled detentions and deportations.”

In a planned act of civil disobedience, the protesters formed a human chain across Massachusetts Avenue. Schapiro, Levy, and 29 other professors were arrested for blocking traffic.

“It is incumbent among those of us who are fortunate enough to receive benefits from our families, communities, and career opportunities to stand up for those of us who are not as fortunate. I see this action as a responsibility,” Levy said in a call with The Tech.

Levy first heard about the protest from a colleague the day before. He contacted its organizer, Harvard Associate Professor Kirsten Weld, for more information before informing a faculty-organizing group he was part of, through which Schapiro was notified. The group was created by Professor Ceasar McDowell and Levy in Jan. 2017.

“It was called together as an acknowledgement of the unprecedented situation that we’re in, where we have a president who campaigned largely on the values of exclusivity, xenophobia, and racism, and misogyny,” Levy said. “The faculty group isn’t an official organization, but just a group of concerned faculty members who ask ourselves, ‘What can we collectively do to stand up for the values of justice, inclusivity, and respect for science as the pursuit of truth?’”

The faculty group met periodically during spring 2017 to brainstorm ways to improve civic engagement and plan effective actions to counter the uncertain social atmosphere. It helped plan the Day of Action, which took place April 18, 2016. Throughout that day, MIT community members hosted and attended lectures about current political, economic, and social challenges in an effort to start a collective dialogue.

“I’m disappointed that [DACA] had to end this way,” an MIT student formerly protected by DACA said in an interview with The Tech. “I’m more open about it than most people are. I share [my status] with my friends because I think it’s important to just talk about it. It gets the conversation going,” the student said.

The Latino Cultural Center (LCC) leadership expressed a similar sentiment. In an email to the LCC body, Vice President Jennifer Madiedo ’19 wrote, “We will FIGHT for everyone affected by this, because we are a familia, and we all deserve to be here.”

Since the announcement of the rescission, the MIT Office of General Counsel has provided affected students with free access to personal legal advice from immigration attorney Dan Berger. Berger offers guidance on renewal applications and answers other questions.

Affected students also have a designated point of contact within the administration: Assistant Dean and Co-Director of Student Support Services Gerardo Garcia-Rios.

Within the larger MIT community, Barnhart had previously established the Working Group on Potential Post-Election Changes to Federal Law and Policy, chaired by Professor Christopher Capozzola, in December 2017. The working group consists of faculty, students, and staff who inform the administration about possible changes to federal law that could impact campus climate and student experience. It sponsored a community briefing on immigration laws and policies earlier this spring.

“Every student, whether they are documented or undocumented, should be able to thrive here at MIT,” Barnhart said.

MIT is considering filing an amicus brief in support of the legal challenge to the DACA repeal. MIT police do not inquire about an individual’s immigration status, and the Institute still has the ability to admit and enroll undocumented students.