Undocumented students at the College of William and Mary could be deported if the Trump administration follows through with a plan to rescind a government program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.
The Trump administration announced Tuesday it will unwind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows younger immigrants to live in the country without fear of deportation. Congress will still have a chance to address the administration’s directive, meaning deportations may not happen for several months.
Former president Barack Obama created the policy in 2012 as a way to shield undocumented students, among other groups, from immediate deportation.
William and Mary president Taylor Reveley has said he supported the undocumented students in an announcement shortly after the end of the last presidential election cycle. Last November, he and more than 300 other college presidents signed a statement in support of the program and the students who use it to attend their institutions.
"DACA students are enrolled at William & Mary under guidelines approved by Virginia’s Attorney General,” said Reveley in the November statement. “They are important members of the William & Mary community, belong here, and should be allowed to finish their W&M educations. It is important that they know we support them."
Twenty-three students currently enrolled at William and Mary are using DACA, Reveley wrote.
The latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates just under 790,000 immigrants have used the program as of March 2017.
The federal government will continue to renew permits for the next six months. Congress has until March 2018 to create a legislative solution, according to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security.
Stephen Sechrist, who runs W&M’s Office of International Students, Scholars, and Programs, said he usually gets a steady stream of calls from the university's undocumented students.
“They contact us pretty regularly,” he said. “Immigration issues as they relate to students are our primary purpose.”
Students renew their DACA status every two years. They are not eligible for federal or state financial aid.
“Let's do what's right — allow these young people to stay in the country they call home,” he said in a statement on Sep. 5.
William and Mary staff have advised undocumented students not to travel internationally during the fall 2017 semester or in spring 2018.
Virginia does not keep undocumented students from applying to schools. State attorney general Mark Herring released a 2014 opinion saying undocumented students in Virginia should pay the in-state rate.
Fifteen other states and four state university systems allowed for the same as of last year.
“We will work closely with Virginia’s Attorney General to better understand today’s announcement,” Reveley wrote. “In the meantime, we will reach out to our DACA students to assure them that William & Mary remains their staunchest ally.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman called for Obama to end DACA in 2014, writing in a letter to the then-president “ … DACA rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits.”
Wittman’s first congressional district includes the city of Williamsburg as well as James City and York counties.
His letter continued: “The DACA program must be immediately ended to send a clear signal to all individuals that our immigration laws will be enforced.”
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.