It’s also a particularly important victory for Los Angeles. After all, the county hosts nearly a tenth of all the DACA recipients in the nation – and the social and economic mobility DACA has provided for them is key to the post-COVID-recovery of the region as a whole.
But while celebration is warranted, DACA remains a precarious and temporary status and the future of so-called Dreamers remains uncertain. Congress must now do its job and act quickly to take up bills that enshrine a permanent solution not just for DACAmented youth but for all undocumented Americans.
Universities – like USC where we teach and do research – are uniquely positioned to lead on this bold vision for immigrant rights. The University of California was a main plaintiff in the DACA case and those of us across the academic community are well-positioned to provide the reasoning needed for providing relief for the nearly ten million undocumented immigrants who have not benefitted from DACA.
We at USC should be especially motivated to lead because of who we are, who we serve, and where we live. Many in our university community, including students, faculty, and staff, hold a variety of temporary and precarious legal statuses, with some students lacking any legal documentation at all. Meanwhile, many other students and staff have family members whose constant threat of deportation creates a level of anxiety that makes it difficult to study, work, and thrive.
This is particularly true for staff and students who hail from our local community. After all, roughly 18 percent of L.A. County residents are either undocumented or living with an undocumented family member. And since 70 percent of undocumented Angelenos have been in the U.S. for longer than a decade, each threat of removal is increasingly likely to threaten the stability of families, businesses, communities.
So how can universities help? USC and our sibling universities in the UC and Cal-State systems boast an amazing group of talented faculty working on immigration issues, a deep bench of student-scholars, including Ph.D. candidates, who are breaking new ground, student services staff and cultural centers with deep knowledge about immigrant students, and impressive legal clinics—like the USC Gould School of Law Immigrant Legal Assistance Center– that are providing first-rate cutting edge assistance to immigrants on campuses and in the community.
Universities are also institutions where undocumented Americans flock to realize their aspirations. A recent report by the New American Economy, in partnership with a group of university presidents throughout the U.S. dedicated to immigration issues, estimated that 450,000 undocumented Americans are enrolled in higher education, with only about 216,000 have DACA or are DACA eligible.
Because of this, we think that USC and other universities should more actively lead the way on pushing for broad legislative action on immigration. So we were heartened when, in her inauguration speech last September, President Carol Folt said: “As your president, I want for people from all circumstances and walks of life — including the immigrants and dreamers of today — to have opportunities like this. I want you to feel as welcome and safe as I feel every day.”
But we were chagrined when just a month later, USC was not part of the amicus brief filed in support of DACA by a group of 165 public and private universities or another brief filed by nineteen prominent private university counterparts like CalTech, Stanford, and Yale. And while the research conducted by our Center and by other colleagues on campus was used by immigrant rights activists working for the cause, the DACA victory would have been that much sweeter had our institution been more firmly in the lead.We are hopeful for change. The DACA ruling comes at a time when communities – and our students – are rising up in a groundswell of racial justice organizing against white supremacy and systemic racism in policing. Partly as a result, President Folt responded on June 11 with actions that included removing the name of a prominent eugenicist from a landmark building, the establishment of a community advisory board for campus police, and the expansion of space for underserved students. And on June 23 President Folt issued a statement disagreeing with Trump’s recent executive order suspending certain work visas.
We applaud these first steps but we should also double down on support for our current undocumented students and community members, and offer bolder statements and actions on the policy changes needed ahead. In a liminal moment of change – with society poised between division and inclusion – universities are being called on to adhere to their values and humanistic mission. We hope that USC will fully realize ours.
Manuel Pastor and Jody Agius Vallejo co-direct the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.