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The Journal Gazette

Friday, December 02, 2016 3:44 am

USF signs to protect 'dreamers'

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

The University of Saint Francis has joined with other Roman Catholic colleges and universities in publicly supporting students facing uncertainty because of their lack of legal immigration status.

University of Saint Francis President Sister Elise Kriss is one of 90 top administrators who signed a statement of support developed by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

The statement pledges continuing help and commitment to educate students who have qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. 

DACA students, sometimes called "dreamers," are not in the U.S. legally. But they also do not face imminent deportation because they were brought to the United States as children by parents who did not come to the country legally.

A movement for colleges and universities to declare as "sanctuary" campuses to protect such students is growing nationally. The movement surged in the aftermath of the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump, who pledged a crackdown on immigrants in the U.S. illegally, including deporting some and erecting a wall on the Mexican border.

Disagreement exists as to what "sanctuary" means, although on some campuses it means university officials will not willingly assist the federal government in deporting students, faculty or staff. The American Association of University Professors on Nov. 22 issued a statement in support of the movement.

The Catholic universities’ statement does not use the term "sanctuary," but Saint Francis wants to be supportive of students, said Trois Hart, university spokeswoman.   

"There’s really no clear definition of what a sanctuary campus or university is. But we are going to use the resources we have and be as encouraging and helpful as we can be for all of our students, including those who may be deemed undocumented," she said.

She said Saint Francis has DACA students, but the number is unknown. "We don’t count them separately," she said. "We just consider them part of the university."

The Catholic universities’ statement expresses concern about the emotional and financial well-being of students. Counseling, ministry support, legal resources on campuses with law schools or legal clinics and "whatever other services we may have at our disposal" will be offered, the statement says.

"(We) express hope that the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses." 

DACA students are not eligible for federal or state student aid, Hart said. The policy, which began under President Barack Obama in 2012, affects about 700,000 people and also allows DACA individuals to get Social Security numbers and to work.

Other institutions that signed the document include Ancilla College near Plymouth and Holy Cross College in South Bend, as well as nationally known institutions, including Villanova University and Boston College.