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Letter to Acting Chief Andria Strano in support of the proposed rule on DACA

Acting Chief Andria Strano 
Office of Policy and Strategy 
Division of Humanitarian Services 
United States Department of Homeland Security 
5900 Capital Gateway Drive 
Camp Springs, MD 20746 

Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS- 2021-0006 

Dear Acting Chief Strano: 

With great appreciation for the Administration’s efforts to protect and vigorously defend our nation’s Dreamers, I offer the following comments in strong support of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposed rule on Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. 

Since 2012, DACA has been the policy and practice of the federal government to confer affirmative immigration relief, known as deferred action, on individuals who arrived in the United States as children and met other criteria, such as graduating from US high schools or serving in the military, and made those granted relief also eligible to apply for work authorization. As part of DACA’s founding rationale, DHS determined that the policy was “especially justified” for “productive young people” who “know only this country as home.” Over the span of a decade, some 825,000 Dreamers stepped forward to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded by DACA—including 3,720 in the Boston-Cambridge area—and have built their lives and futures around the policy and its benefits. 

During my time in higher education at Tufts, MIT, and now Harvard, I have met and mentored DACA students who have enrolled in some of our nation’s top undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. These students, many of whom arrived in the US speaking few, if any words of English, learned alongside other children in our public elementary and secondary schools, graduated, including as valedictorians of their high schools, and enrolled in colleges and universities across the country, expecting to be able to make the most of the opportunities they have earned. Dalia Larios, the first DACA recipient to be accepted to Harvard Medical School, is one such example. Dalia was an infant when she arrived in the United States from Mexico. Today, she is a practicing physician at two Boston-area hospitals and is completing a medical residency specializing in radiation oncology. 

Dr. Larios’s example is remarkable, but her contributions to the US are not unique. A 2019 report from the Immigration Initiative at Harvard demonstrates how DACA has led to better outcomes for Dreamers, but it also has helped to strengthen families and communities in the towns and cities where they live and work

I have experienced that and more at Harvard, where DACA recipients and other Dreamers have been essential to the life of the university—and are among some of the finest people I have known. Harvard has long worked to support the talents and aspirations of these students, including offering DACA recipients the same access to need-based financial aid that we provide to other stu-dents, and we are counting on their continued enrollment and active participation in our programs. As just one example, Harvard offers a joint MD/PhD program to train physician-scientists—a dual qualification that enables students to connect patient care with rigorous scientific research. It is one of the most selective—and rigorous—programs in the United States, with students committing to eight years of post-college education and training. Unlike their peers who receive financial support from federal agencies, undocumented students must rely on institutional support, work, and a lim-ited number of outside scholarships, meaning that the DACA recipients currently in the program—and Harvard—are placing a large bet on their future. Without DACA, these exceptional students would be unable to continue their medical education and training, and ultimately to obtain employment in health care or academia. 

While the courts continue to consider the reliance interests of the DACA recipients, I believe too few have considered what Jin Park, a Harvard College alumnus and the first DACA recipient selected for the Rhodes Scholarship, calls the other side of the equation—America’s reliance on DACA recipients. Our medical students and residents are among nearly 27,000 DACA recipients involved in health-related professions, caring for our families and friends and our elderly parents. Lawyers and law students with DACA status are helping to promote public interest and protect private rights. Still others are applying varied skills to serve their communi-ties and the nation, working in education, technology, social work, business, retail, and construc-tion, among other fields. As much as DACA recipients and other Dreamers rely on the US, we rely on them—the type of reciprocal relationship that is fundamental to community, civic life, social well-being, and the pursuit of life goals. 

This mutual reliance was threatened by the unprincipled wind-down of DACA in 2017. Many DACA students at Harvard and across the country confronted the very real possibility that they would be unable to participate in core aspects of their training, such as on-campus research expe-riences, internships, and residencies. Worse, they feared the end of DACA would force them to choose between retreating to the margins of society or returning to countries that were never their own. As this proposed rule recognizes, we stand to gain far more by allowing these individuals to pursue the opportunities they have earned than by allowing DACA’s protections to wither in response to legal challenges. 

In addition to these general comments, I want to focus on two specific elements of the proposed rule—eligibility and work authorization. As written, the proposed rule does not expand DACA eligibility beyond its 2012 criteria, meaning only those who have been in the United States since 2007, and were undocumented in 2012, would be able to benefit from DACA. While I appreciate the immediate need to preserve DACA in its current form, these criteria will bar many deserving young people from qualifying for DACA, including the undocumented students currently 

enrolled in colleges and universities across the country. To ensure that DACA protections are available to more recent arrivals, I urge you to advance the eligibility dates to include any minors who arrived five years prior to the date of any future rulemaking. Separately, as part of the final rule, I urge you to eliminate the requirement for an individual to have “no lawful status” on June 15, 2012. Although this provision was created to ensure that individuals who were in legal status in 2012 would not violate that status simply to receive DACA, that policy now seems to be an unnecessary artifact—and it has been a barrier for those who were derivatives on their parents’ applications and have since fallen out of status. 

The proposed rule allows individuals to apply only for legal protection with a separate, optional process for employment authorization. Although I support the work to fortify DACA against legal challenges, I want to underscore that any effort to strike down the work authorization portion of DACA would be devastating to all who have invested in and benefitted from the contri-butions of our DACA recipients. As demonstrated by the Immigration Initiative at Harvard’s report, the consequences of not being able to work would extend outward from DACA recipients to the individuals and institutions involved in their lives, including the 250,000 children in mixed-status families, schools where recipients study and teach, businesses where recipients work, and the com-munities where recipients build lives with their friends and neighbors. More practically, I also urge you to consider providing an automatic extension of DACA (and employment authorization, if sep-arate) once the renewal application has been filed. Unlike with Temporary Protected Status, there is no automatic extension for DACA recipients, which means that delays in adjudication could have serious consequences for recipients, preventing them from continuing work and causing them to accrue unlawful presence. 

Again, I want to thank you for this proposed rule and your ongoing efforts to protect DACA and our students, neighbors, and community members relying on this status. Yet, so long as DACA is temporary, and does not provide a pathway to citizenship, I am reminded that, no matter their education or other accomplishments, these individuals will be unfairly defined—and limited—by their lack of official status. For that reason, I will continue to advocate for a legislative solution that provides the DACA recipients, and other Dreamers, a true and permanent home in the United States. 

Sincerely, 

Lawrence S. Bacow