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MIT joins court brief in support of “Dreamers”

Legal filing is part of larger set of Institute actions to aid DACA students.
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MIT, together with 18 peer institutions, has filed an amicus curiae brief in a federal court lawsuit challenging the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — part of a growing set of Institute actions designed to support MIT community members affected by changes to federal immigration policy.

In the brief, the schools focus on the effects the repeal of DACA will have on their DACA-protected students and recent graduates whose status as U.S. residents depends on the program; the impact that ending DACA would have on the institutions’ ability to attract the most talented students; and the loss to the nation if these individuals are not able to stay in the U.S. and use their talents and education to contribute to society.

Those students, the brief notes, are some of the most gifted and motivated young people in the world. However, with the repeal of DACA, the brief adds, many students now risk being unable to obtain the “full and complete education” they have been working toward since being brought to the U.S. as children.

U.S. residents dependent on DACA are often referred to as “Dreamers,” after the proposed legislation known as the “DREAM Act,” which was introduced in Congress over a decade ago but has not yet passed.

The brief highlights the real-life situations of a number of undocumented students and recent graduates, including two MIT students — one a recent graduate, the other still enrolled — who have benefited from the protections afforded by DACA.

One of them, Jose Gomez ’17, an aerospace engineering major who participated in NASA research as an MIT student, was brought to the U.S. by his family at age 5; he is now working for a robotics startup and is a public advocate for DACA. The other, sophomore Johan Villanueva, is a chemical engineering major who graduated second in his class from Chicago’s largest public high school after serving as a co-captain of the math team, volunteering to help the homeless, and being named to the National Honor Society.

“Though they are called Dreamers, these young people are doers, in the best American tradition,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “They are undocumented through no fault of their own. And when our government offered them an opportunity to come out of the shadows, they did — because they trusted that they would not be punished for doing so. I believe that as a nation we owe them fairness and certainty.”

The brief was submitted in support of the plaintiffs in State of California, et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et. al, and Regents of University of California, et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., and was filed on Nov. 1. For purposes of the issues the court is currently considering, these cases have been consolidated with two other cases challenging DACA. MIT expects to join its peers in filing a similar brief in a lawsuit filed in New York by 16 states (including Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia.

Legal residents hope for permanent status

The DACA program, established by the Obama administration in 2012, applies to about 800,000 U.S. residents who were brought to the country as children but have not acquired legal immigration status. In September, the Trump administration announced the rescission of the DACA program, effective in March 2018.

Under DACA, Dreamers were permitted to reside in the U.S. without fear of deportation and were able to obtain authorization to work legally. DACA protection lasted for two years (with renewals possible) but did not include a standardized path to citizenship.

Under the specific terms of the rescission, those with DACA status could lose their protections as early as March 2018, although some have applied for a two-year extension of this protection before an October 2017 deadline.

MIT’s amicus brief makes the case that DACA recipients, who by definition are the product of this nation’s education system, have much to give back to the country that raised them. Rescinding DACA, the brief argues, would waste a tremendous national investment by forcing these talented young people to return to the shadows of our society.

“Every MIT student deserves the same opportunities to study, to work, to travel — in short, to thrive here,” says MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart. “By joining our peer institutions in filing this amicus brief to preserve the DACA program, we are again showing that MIT stands firmly behind our nation's Dreamers. And by continuing to provide MIT’s DACA students with the direct support and resources they need during this uncertain time, we are showing that our commitment to them will not change, regardless of what happens in Washington."

In a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in September, 86 percent of respondents said they supported the DACA program.

Overview: MIT’s resources for Dreamers

The new amicus brief is one example of many activities MIT has engaged in to support international members of its community in the face of changing immigration policy. These measures include public advocacy on the subject by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, dedicated legal support for DACA students, information briefings on campus, an MIT working group to monitor post-election changes in federal policies, and multiple open letters to the entire MIT community informing them about the Institute's evolving efforts and resources on this front. MIT has also joined with groups of colleges and universities to issue open letters in support of DACA and the Dreamers.

President Reif has emerged as a high-profile advocate on behalf of the Dreamers. In an opinion piece published in The Boston Globe on Aug. 31, he stated that pushing Dreamers out of the U.S. would constitute "throwing away a tremendous national investment."

In the piece, Reif added, terminating the DACA program would also be "a violation of deep American principles. The plight of the Dreamers presents a profound question of fairness. Often starting from harsh personal circumstances, these young people have done what any American family might dream of for their child: Study hard, aim high, and earn a degree or a place in college or the military, on the road to a productive career."

Reif also joined the Dream Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group with national scope that is seeking a permanent legislative solution for DACA-eligible U.S. residents — a step he also endorsed in his Boston Globe piece.

This fall, MIT partnered with an outside immigration attorney to provide all DACA students with free legal consultations.

In January of 2017, MIT also established a Post-Election Working Group to monitor and evaluate the evolution of federal policy regarding immigration and other related topics. In coordination with the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of the General Counsel, the group, chaired by associate professor of history Christopher Capozzola, has hosted two on-campus immigration briefings to inform the community of current developments. MIT has also developed FAQ pages available to the community, and, through the International Students Office and International Scholars Office, provides travel advice and other guidance to students and community members.

This September, MIT joined a letter issued by 57 members of the Association of American Universities, calling for Congress to enact permanent legislation on DACA. In October, MIT was one of nearly 800 institutions signing on to a letter from the American Council on Education that also called for a “long-term legislative fix as soon as possible to protect Dreamers,” terming such a policy “in America’s best interest.”

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