More than 500 universities, including Notre Dame, Indiana University and Purdue University, call for upholding President Obama's program.
A temporary reprieve from the risks of living undocumented in the U.S. gave Andrea Martinez Dominguez the opportunity to get a driver’s license, enroll at the University of Notre Dame and find a job to help pay for textbooks and tuition.
But under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, much of her residency was still left in limbo. Now the aspiring obstetrician is even more uncertain about her future, facing the prospect that President-Elect Donald Trump could make good on his promise to end the program that has let some 750,000 undocumented youth stay and work in the U.S.
More than 500 university presidents, including those from Notre Dame, Indiana University and Purdue University, and 15 mayors have publicly backed the program and have asked political leaders to continue the immigration policy.
“It’s definitely something that gives us a little bit of hope,” said Martinez Dominguez, a 19-year-old sophomore.
Last week, Trump indicated in an interview with Time magazine that he may be open to addressing the residency concerns of those known as “Dreamers.”
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Enacted by executive order in 2012, the program provides temporary relief for students who were brought to the country illegally as children. If they qualify, the program grants work authorization and puts off immigration enforcement action such as detainment or deportation. The status that is renewable every two years.
In order to be eligible, recipients cannot have been convicted of a felony or pose a public safety threat.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education doesn’t track how many students are enrolled under the policy, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson. But U.S. Department of Homeland Security data show more than 9,500 people living in Indiana have been approved as of June.
College and city leaders tout the economic and community contributions of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
"This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity," said a letter signed by more than 500 university presidents. "America needs talent — and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future."
At its campuses statewide, Indiana University enrolls about 200 DACA recipients, said university spokeswoman Margie Smith-Simmons.
"Indiana University has long recognized the absolute necessity of a diverse and inclusive community to an excellent education," Smith-Simmons wrote in an email statement. "All IU students, regardless of their background or country of origin, are welcome in our community. Each and every one brings perspectives and experiences that, taken together, enrich the educational experience and prepare our students to thrive in the 21st century. Our student body expresses who we are as a community and reflects our foundational commitment to inclusion and diversity."
Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — who, as governor, approved a bill that denied in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students — signed the letter in support of DACA last week.
Daniels couldn’t be reached for comment, but Pam Horne, vice provost for enrollment management, emphasized the university's mission to help all of its students.
"I think that public and private universities are in the education business. We’re not in the rooting-someone-out business," she said. "It’s our job to educate."
The number of undocumented students at Purdue is unclear because the university doesn't collect that information, Horne said.
At a prayer service last month, Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins reiterated his support for undocumented students.
"The University will spare no effort to support you, just as we will for every student at Notre Dame," Jenkins said. "You accepted our invitation to come to Notre Dame, you are now part of our family, and we will do everything we can to ensure that you complete your education at Notre Dame."
Notre Dame began admitting DACA recipients in fall 2014. While some private colleges have accepted undocumented students, the program has made higher education more accessible, even though students do not qualify for federal financial aid or Indiana's state financial aid programs. Some colleges, including Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, offer scholarships specifically for DACA-eligible students.
"In many ways, Notre Dame is itself a university of immigrants," university spokesman Dennis Brown wrote in an email. "While the legal circumstances are certainly different, we have a long and proud history of educating the marginalized and least among us. This is a central component of church teaching and our mission as a Catholic university."
Luis R. Fraga, co-director of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, said having DACA students on campus has helped other students understand the complexities of immigration policies.
Eliminating the program, he said, "would mean that the contribution these individuals make — in taxes, in employment, in investment, in contributing to their families, in raising families and in becoming valuable participants in our economy and our society — would no longer exist."
Because the program was created through an executive order and not in law, it can be changed by any president. Obama's attempt in 2014 to expand the program and create a similar program for adults was challenged and blocked by the courts, with the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on it earlier this year.
During his campaign, Trump indicated his stances on immigration reform, promoting building a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border and suggesting a shift in enforcement priorities to more aggressively deport undocumented immigrants.
Call IndyStar reporter Stephanie Wang at (317) 444-6184. Follow her on Twitter: @stephaniewang.
Contact Journal & Courier higher education reporter Meghan Holden at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @meghanholden.