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Pitt among colleges ramping up efforts for Dreamers

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2:39 p.m.
Oscar Belanger, assistant principal of Nellie Muir Elementary School, in Woodburn, Ore., where 82 percent of students are Latino, slaps five with a student arriving for the first day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. Belanger says some of the students are DACA recipients, and that the school is paying close attention to what happens in Washington with the program that allows children brought into the U.S. illegally to remain in the country.
Oscar Belanger, assistant principal of Nellie Muir Elementary School, in Woodburn, Ore., where 82 percent of students are Latino, slaps five with a student arriving for the first day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. Belanger says some of the students are DACA recipients, and that the school is paying close attention to what happens in Washington with the program that allows children brought into the U.S. illegally to remain in the country.

Colleges and universities here and across the U.S are calling for renewed immigration protections for so-called Dreamers as the calendar marks off days to the March 5 expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children were able to obtain legal status to work and attend school in the U.S. under the 2012 DACA program authorized by then President Barack Obama.

But last September, President Donald Trump ordered an end to renewal of DACA authorizations and gave Congress six months — his deadline expires March 5 — to come up with legislation to resolve the immigration status of Dreamers.

Although authorities estimate Pennsylvania is home to only about 6,000 Dreamers, colleges and universities here have joined institutions across the nation calling for swift congressional action to protect the Dreamers.

Pitt supports Dreamers

Officials at the University of Pittsburgh won't say how many Dreamers are enrolled there.

But Pitt faculty members and staffers are concerned despite recent assurances from White House chief of staff John Kelly that the government will not begin deporting Dreamers who don't have criminal records should March 5 come and go without congressional action.

“They are not a priority for deportation,” Kelly told reporters earlier this week.

In an open letter to Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Pitt's Human Rights Working Group called on the university to protect Dreamers.

“DACA recipients, and residents that are affected by the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) changes, are our friends, our classmates, our neighbors, our colleagues, and are our fellow Yinzers,” the group wrote.

“In 2018, we aim to be more welcoming than ever before, and that goes beyond our local government and our Welcoming Pittsburgh initiatives. It includes urging residents to contact their Representative or Senator in Congress and tell them to pass a clean DREAM Act now.” They asked Pitt to:

• Educate campus police, university faculty and staff regarding the circumstances and legality of withholding student information from immigration officials and prohibiting such officials from entering university buildings.

• Promote a safe and supportive campus community for all students, regardless of immigration status, and investigate reports of harassment thoroughly and efficiently.

• Work with student organizations to facilitate the creation of an anonymous support group for DACA recipients and undocumented members of the University of Pittsburgh.

• Create a scholarship fund to provide financial aid to DACA students who lose their work permits.

While Gallagher stopped short of declaring Pitt a sanctuary campus — a move the University of Pennsylvania took more than a year ago — he said Pitt has ramped up lobbying efforts on behalf of Dreamers and provided them with legal and emotional counsel.

“At Pitt, we value DACA students and believe that they have every right to be a part of our community,” he said.

The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, a trade group that represents public research universities including Pitt, Penn State and Temple, also went on record this week.

Saying the termination of DACA protections would create “incredible disruption,” on campuses across the country, organization president Peter McPherson urged Congress to take swift action to continue protections for Dreamers.

“We recognize there is strong bipartisan support for a fair, compassionate, and expeditious solution,” McPherson wrote. “We prevail on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill without further delay.”

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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