Nashville’s private liberal arts universities weighed in on President Trump’s DACA decision this week, saying ending the program is a mistake.
In sentimental, emotional statements, the presidents of Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb and Trevecca described ending DACA as an offense to the values of their universities.
They’re not the only ones reacting negatively. Several hundred protesters condemned Trump during a march Tuesday along West End Avenue organized by immigration activists. However, conservative Tennessee politicians and others are praising Trump or are offering more nuanced reactions.
The Trump administration announced Tuesday morning that it would begin winding down the program in March unless Congress acts. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has allowed young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to obtain temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. if they meet certain criteria. Many are now young adults. There are nearly 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide and more than 8,300 in Tennessee.
DACA was started by former President Obama with an executive order, which critics said was an unconstitutional overreach of his authority. Trump made a campaign promise to end DACA but as president had sent mixed signals before his administration announced early Tuesday that it would effectively rescind Obama’s executive order. Later Tuesday, Trump told the media he still has “a great love” for DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, and that “hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said, “Without an alternative in place, it closes the door to young student scholars and leaders raised and educated in the United States and cuts short their potential to contribute to their communities and our national economy. We urge and stand ready to support swift enactment of legislation, such as the BRIDGE Act, that allows these young people to reach their dreams in the only nation they’ve ever called home.
“Our mission of teaching and discovery demands a vibrant academic environment supported by a culture of curiosity, diversity, access and inclusion,” Zeppos said. “To that end, we will continue to support and embrace our students regardless of immigration status, citizenship or nationality.”
Belmont University President Bob Fisher said that “as part of Belmont University’s Christian mission, we aim to be an inclusive and diverse community, welcoming all of God’s children to a place where education offers a hopeful future.” The decision to end DACA was “a betrayal of trust to countless young people—including several of our own successful alumni—who met the requirements of DACA, came forward and identified themselves in order to pursue their dreams without fear.”
Fisher said he hopes there will be “a long-term legislative solution” that “creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals” or at least a “provisional protected presence and work/study authorization to be in the country.”
“We are in a time as a nation where it’s imperative that we understand who our enemies are,” Fisher said. “As I told our students on the first day of class this semester, our enemies are not individuals or countries or those with different opinions. Our enemies are hatred, bigotry, racism, hunger, lack of opportunities… our enemies are the things that keep us from living the life God has called us to, a life of loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
Lipscomb University President Randolph Lowry said that “we are deeply saddened” by Trump’s decision to end DACA. “We have a deep sense of hope that our government will find a path for these productive young people to legally remain a part of our society. We are willing to work with our elected officials on the state and national level as well as our community leaders to develop solutions to continue to offer a pathway to a bright future for these students.”
Trevecca Nazarene University President Dan Boone said, “We believe Christ compels us to love and care for all students, knowing all people are made in the image of God. We desire Trevecca Nazarene University to be a community characterized by love, compassion, and hospitality. As part of a global movement that addresses human need in more than 160 countries, we believe it inconsistent to ignore the education of our neighbors. There are no foreigners in the kingdom of God.”
None of the statements from the university presidents wrestled with the constitutional question surrounding Obama’s executive order that created DACA, but for those praising Trump this week, it was the first aspect of the issue they addressed.
Obama’s executive order “was unconstitutional and should never have been allowed to remain in place as long as it has,” said gubernatorial candidate Mae Beavers in a statement. “The rule of law should be the basis for our actions and policies regarding illegal immigration, and Congress should immediately take action to fund construction of the border wall, enact E-verify, reduce illegal immigration, and impose immigration limits based upon merit.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-7) said in a statement that “unilateral executive actions, such as DACA, offer the false hope of amnesty that led to a surge of illegal immigration and stole jobs from American citizens by giving illegal aliens work permits.”
Blackburn noted her role in leading efforts in the House to freeze the DACA program, and said Obama “used illegal aliens as pawns in a political game, circumvented congressional authority, and cemented his legacy of lawlessness. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming months to fix our broken immigration system and establish laws that encourage immigrants and their families to come here legally.”
In a news release, Latinos For Tennessee, a conservative political action group, praised Trump’s decision to end DACA but called on Congress to preserve a way to “deal compassionately with the children who came here at no fault of their own” while also working to “strengthen our border and end illegal immigration.”
Raul Lopez, executive director of Latinos For Tennessee, said, “We cannot live in a free and fair society without the rule of law. President Trump did the right thing by restoring constitutional powers to their proper place – giving legislative authority to the legislature.”