To Harvard Kennedy School students, staff, and faculty,
For undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program offers protection from being deported and authorization to work legally. President Trump’s decision to phase out DACA over the next six months will hurt those people and have damaging effects on the Harvard community—and the country as a whole, in my view—unless Congress acts to extend the program. I am therefore profoundly worried about the president’s decision and the impact it will have on our colleagues and friends who have benefited from DACA and whose lives may be turned upside down.
As many of you are aware, the DACA program was established by President Obama in 2012 to permit immigrants who came to this country as children (and who meet certain other conditions) to work or attend school without being deported for a renewable two-year period. DACA was established by the Obama Administration without legislative action and has been challenged as an abuse of executive power. Nearly 800,000 people—sometimes called “Dreamers"—have been approved for DACA status so far.
President Faust has spoken consistently and forcefully on behalf of the DACA program. I hope you all have had a chance to read her message from earlier today, which includes both her views about the importance of DACA and some information on actions being taken by the University. In a letter to President Trump last week, she wrote: “At Harvard and other institutions of higher education across the country, DACA has made it possible for talented and motivated students to pursue their education and explore meaningful ways of contributing to our communities and economy. … We will benefit far more by permitting these students to put their skills to their highest use rather than by repealing DACA and forcing them to return to the shadows of our society.”
I agree strongly with President Faust that continuing DACA would be in the best interest of Harvard and of the country. For the country, in my view, allowing young people who were brought here as children to be fuller participants in our society helps us live up to the core public value of inclusion that I spoke about when welcoming students last week. For Harvard, bringing together extraordinary students and scholars regardless of their immigration status is the essence of our work and our lives. If some members of our community are forced to leave, the rest of us will miss terribly their commitment, energy, and abilities: Without the heads and hearts of our community members with DACA status, we will be much poorer in spirit and less effective at our mission.
Although I am deeply concerned about the current situation, I am hopeful that Congress will extend the DACA program. Key leaders from both parties have expressed support for the main provisions of DACA, and surveys suggest that a clear majority of Americans supports those provisions as well. Therefore, the next six months will be a critical period of debate for this country and the Harvard community. For elected officials and voters who object to DACA because they think consequential changes in immigration policy should arise from legislation rather than executive action, this is an opportunity for Congress to take that responsibility. For elected officials and voters who object to DACA because they think people who are eligible for the program should be treated in a different manner, this period is an opportunity to offer alternative proposals and advocate for them in the public arena. In keeping with the value of civil discourse that I also discussed in my remarks last week, I expect that our community will continue to have vigorous and informed discussions about immigration policy.
I want to emphasize that Harvard will endeavor to support every member of our community. However, all of us should understand that Harvard’s ability to provide such support is limited by U.S. law and its implementation. As the University’s lawyers and other experts learn more about how today’s decision will be carried out and any further courses of action that are available to the University, more information will be made available. As always, members of the Kennedy School community with individual concerns should feel free to reach out to the program directors (for students), the human resources office (for staff members), and the academic deans (for faculty members).
At the same time, each of us can act, individually and collectively, to shift public views and policies in directions we think appropriate—whatever your position on specific issues such as immigration. The teaching, research, and practice undertaken by the Kennedy School have this effect. Some of the School’s activities are initiated and led by students, and others guided by faculty and staff; for an example in the latter category, I hope you can attend tonight’s event in the Forum on “Are Democracies in Peril?” We can also change the world through activities we pursue outside of our Kennedy School roles. I encourage everyone in our community to participate in public life in these ways.
My heart goes out especially to the people who will be affected most directly by today’s decision. Let us pull together at the Kennedy School to ensure that everyone in our community feels that we are all Harvard and we all belong here.