In case of DACA repeal, MIT will fight for undocumented students

Undocumented students would be able to continue their studies at MIT even if DACA were repealed, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said at a UA Council meeting on Nov. 30.

Barnhart affirmed MIT’s dedication to supporting its undocumented students in light of potential changes to U.S. immigration policy under the Trump administration. A summary was also emailed to all students the following day.

Although little is known about Trump’s future policies, he has repeatedly promised to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA enables undocumented immigrants to become eligible for a work permit if they arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and before 2007. Since DACA is an executive order, it would only take another to repeal it. “We are actively monitoring the situation,” Barnhart said.

For the fewer than 20 undocumented MIT students, a DACA repeal would mean losing their jobs and with it, a valuable source of income. Barnhart reiterated multiple times that, in this scenario, the administration would work “to make students whole” by providing them with any necessary financial help.

In addition, Barnhart also made it clear that MIT would provide all legal help necessary to keep students at MIT.

All have been contacted by MIT following the election. The students, Barnhart said, have expressed a wide range of opinions: “some want MIT to take a more activist approach, others don’t.”

The biggest deterrent to any MIT action is the potential loss of federal funding, which covers nearly two-thirds of MIT’s research expenditure. However, Barnhart asserted that the MIT administration doing “everything possible within the bounds of what’s legal to support the students,” including continuing to disregard immigration status during the admission process.

For policies beyond a DACA repeal, uncertainty reigns. A working group, chaired by history professor Christopher Capozzola, was created to help formulate how MIT should respond to various scenarios. When the time comes, the working group and MIT’s general counsel will coordinate with the senior team to enact MIT’s response.

The general counsel is also coordinating with peer institutions to explore various legal tools and their consequences, notably the option of making MIT a “sanctuary campus.” Various student group leaders, including La Union Chicana por Aztlan president Yazmin Guzman ’18, have advocated for that option. 

Guzman emphasized the need for MIT to foster an inclusive and accepting community, expressing frustration at how long it is taking the administration to enact last semester’s BSU recommendations.

“Overall, the things Trump can do as president are really scary for immigrants both documented and undocumented,” Guzman said. “Speaking for myself, I think MIT should speak out against Trump and assert themselves even more.”

However, Guzman was pleasantly surprised at MIT’s plans: “there are a lot of gears moving around!”

Guzman’s sentiments reflect UA President Sophia Liu’s ’17 frustration about the lack of “clear feedback channels” between students and administrators which, she said, leads to duplicated efforts and unpleasant surprises. Liu also emphasized that historically, the blame has gone both ways.

David Elwell, director of MIT’s International Students Office, has been fielding concerns since the election from students who worry that their studies could be cut short if a Trump administration enacted changes to immigration policy.

Elwell said that the Institute should be “vigilant and vocal” about the negative impact such policies would have “on MIT, on higher education, and the U.S. in general.”