I write today with a heavy heart to express my outrage and despair at the federal government’s decision to end the program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As you may know, dozens if not hundreds of our students at TCU are DACA recipients, and some others may be wholly undocumented. Countless more TCU students hail from mixed-status families that include undocumented or “DACA-mented” members. All of them now fear for their own or their loved ones’ lives. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that the current administration’s latest action represents an unprecedented assault on members of our much-vaunted TCU community. The repeal of DACA should be condemned as such by all university leaders, faculty, staff, and students.
I’m sure I’m not the only one among us who has had difficult, heartbreaking conversations in my office with TCU students who are on DACA or undocumented and/or who have relatives with precarious immigration statuses. I have become particularly close with one student recipient of DACA who was brought to the U.S. when he was one year old, and, needless to say, he had little input in the matter. He was raised as an American kid, excelled in school, and earned an academic scholarship to TCU. When the previous administration offered an opportunity for him to normalize his immigration status, he jumped at it, despite justified fears that turning over his most personal information to the distant federal government could later be used against him and his family. He became a leader among TCU students; his very presence and willingness to share his experience in the classroom helped students who were native-born U.S. citizens better understand the human side of immigration policy debates, fulfilling the promise that diversity in educational settings represents a compelling interest for all. Now his worst nightmare has become a reality: a political system that once called him a “dreamer” and encouraged him to seek out an education and become a productive contributor to society (if not a citizen) now casts him beyond the pale, worthy only of expulsion. And the government now knows where to find him and his family whenever the promised “deportation squads” kick into high gear. This student isn’t alone—I’m sure many of you have heard and seen stories just like his and are similarly concerned about your students, friends, families, and neighbors.
As an historian, I’m particularly outraged by the arbitrary and capricious nature of this reversal and of U.S. immigration policy throughout the American past. Those who chant “Build the Wall” forget that our nation had all but open borders for most of its history, despite the restriction that only whites could naturalize (and acknowledging the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). My own family fled the anti-Semitic pogroms of Russia and the collapsing Kingdom of Greece and were welcomed with open arms at Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Maybe one of them could read. None attended college or sought skilled employment, though some of the next generation were able to do so. Then, a century and a few months ago in 1917, Congress imposed a literacy requirement on immigrants that would have kept my family out and extended the Asiatic Barred Zone across that whole continent. In 1924, Congress passed the sweeping Johnson-Reed Act, which imposed a racist quota system that targeted my extended relatives and cut off immigration from anywhere except northern and western Europe—and in the process, created the category of “illegal immigrant.”
In a reversal of sorts nearly two decades later, in 1942, growers and other business leaders in the U.S. Southwest helped Franklin D. Roosevelt create the Bracero Program, a wartime emergency measure designed to bring Mexican guest workers to U.S. fields and industry while denying them basic human rights. The program continued until 1964. Finally, in the Hart-Celler Act a year later, Congress revamped the quota system to make it less racist but also imposed a cap, for the first time, on authorized immigration from the Western Hemisphere.
The number that lawmakers arbitrarily chose in 1965 remained far short of the labor needs of U.S. industry, so migrants from Mexico and further south continued to trek northward, even if they had to do so in the shadows and without papers. At the same time, U.S. foreign and trade policy and military expeditions abroad helped push people out of their homes, particularly in Central America and Mexico, adding them to the migrant stream. Some of them carried one-year-old kids like my student, and like many of yours. As the saying goes, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”
I’m simply appalled that we as a people and nation continue to find new ways to give concrete, material meaning to the belief that one human life is worth more than another. I find the repeal of DACA and other recent anti-immigrant measures unconscionable, immoral, and even—despite our country’s roots in slavery, genocide, and conquest—un-American. I’ve never been more aware of my privilege as a U.S. citizen and more scared for my brothers and sisters (and students) who happened to have been born somewhere else.
And I’ve never been more willing to stand up and fight for the rights of people like my student, his many DACA-mented and undocumented colleagues at TCU, the 800,000+ students like them across the U.S., the half-million or more undocumented people in our DFW metro area, and the more than 11 million people nationwide who have come here to work only to face discrimination, abuse, and now deportation. The bottom line is that we want and need immigrants in order to grow and thrive as a nation, a local community, and a world-class, values centered university with our mission: “to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community.”
At the very least, here on campus we should stand up for “Frogs First” by publicly defending and protecting the most vulnerable members of our TCU community. I understand that some students have organized a protest today starting at noon at the Founders’ Statue by the library. From there a march will proceed toward Sadler Hall. I’ll be there and hope to see some of you as well. Our students need us.