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With DACA program in peril, Westminster supports Dreamers

Flags representing the countries of Westminster College’s international students hang over the Shaw Student Center dining hall. Westminster is committed to creating a community that serves all its students, and President Beth Dobkin said not signing the DACA amicus brief would be like turning her back on students. (Marisa Cooper)

Westminster College officially supported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), joining 164 other higher-education institutions in signing an amicus brief backing the issue, as of October 8, 2019.

President Trump’s administration announced its intent to rescind the DACA program in September 2017.

DACA began in 2012 under the Obama administration to protect young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The program allows these young people  to “apply for temporary protection from removal” in order to live, study and work legally in the U.S., according to the brief’s introduction. 

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against DACA to decide whether its termination would be legal. This amicus brief is a part of an overarching message deeming DACA not only legal but a constitutional, highly successful and beneficial aspects for American communities.

What is an amicus brief?

An amicus brief comes from the term “amicus curiae” which is Latin for “friend of the court.” An amicus brief is typically filed in court cases with a broad public interest and is filed by those who otherwise wouldn’t be a part of the hearing procedures. 

Why did Westminster sign this amicus brief?

In an email sent out to students and faculty, President Beth Dobkin wrote that she signed the brief to support DACA and immigrant students. 

YouTube videos using #HomeIsHere are a part of the same message the DACA amicus brief conveys, according to Professor Marilee Coles-Ritchie. 165 higher-education institutions signed the amicus brief in support of continuing the DACA program. (Marisa Cooper)

“The anxiety and stress that [being unsure of your future’s stability] causes creates a learning environment that runs counter to everything we try to create at Westminster,” said Dobkin, in an exclusive interview with The Forum. 

A survey done by TheDream.US in August 2019 found that out of the 1,800+ DACA recipients — or “Dreamers” — currently in school, 84% of them planned to continue their education past a Bachelor’s degree. 

“It’s our commitment to all our students that we will ensure their safety as well as support them through their academic journey,” said Daniel Cairo, assistant dean of students and director of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center. 

With all of the concerns DACA students are faced with, Cairo said the brief could help ease some of their worries. 

“Students who are in that particular demographic are already experiencing the trauma of the current political moment, right?” he said. “As well as the anxieties of what is happening to their families and their communities. School should not be one of the things that they have to worry about.”

Education Professor Marilee Coles-Ritchie said, “This enables [DACA recipients] to envision a future for themselves in this country,” and provides an incentive to take part in the American workplace, economy and community.

Coles-Ritchie said that areas of the country with more liberal immigration stances also tend to have stronger economies, typically because bilingual residents with diverse backgrounds (who are often Dreamers) only help the workforce and marketplace.

According to an October 2018 survey by TheDream.US, “71% of their DACA scholars were employed; of those, […] nearly one third (29%) worked full time.”

These statistics show that the DACA program is not only beneficial to Dreamers but the community they take part in as well. 

Is signing the brief a political move?

Some met the news with opposition, commenting on Westminster’s Facebook account that the school should not take political stances. 

“It’s less about politics than about what’s right for our students,”  President Dobkin said to The Forum. 

Coles-Ritchie called the amicus brief a “human issue” rather than a political one. 

“It can be politicized but I don’t think it is,” she said. “A college has the obligation to create the best atmosphere they can for all of their students and creating this is not taking away from any other student on campus.” 

Cairo said the move to sign the brief was more about the message it conveys to Dreamers on campus than a political message.

“It’s about communicating to them that while they’re here we will ensure that they can show up, be a student, engage in their studies, engage with their community,” he said.

Overall, President Dobkin said the amicus brief was an opportunity to show support for all students on campus. 

“It’s important to weigh in and take a position on things that directly affect our students,” she said. “So, as soon as I became aware that there was the opportunity, to then turn my back on that to some extent turns my back on our students.”


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Marisa Cooper is a senior communication major with a psychology minor. She hopes to find a career path within public relations or journalism with time for a mindful work/life balance. As of late, she’s been exploring passions for embroidery, hiking, house plants and podcasts. Marisa is thrilled to take on the role of managing editor this year.

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