Washington state Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib addresses a rally in Seattle on Sept. 5 opposing the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program earlier that morning. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Bellevue students protected as federal government seeks end of DACA

Dreamers are welcome at Bellevue schools, officials said last week.

Following the Sept. 5 Department of Homeland Security announcement that the federal government will begin to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Bellevue College and Bellevue School District leaders were quick to reassure students, who were illegally brought to the country as children, they are protected.

Bellevue College President Dr. Jerry Weber called the action “deeply troubling” and “a step backward for our nation.”

“Bellevue College continues to stand with and advocate for our Dreamers,” he wrote in a message to the Bellevue College community.

A day after the announcement, the Bellevue College Board of Trustees passed Resolution 314, stating that the college “will urgently and forcefully advocate to all of our elected federal officials that Congress act to protect students and other childhood arrivals from deportation and provide these individuals with long-term opportunities to live, study and work in the United States.”

Henry Amaya, the college’s Multicultural Services program assistant director, said he estimates there are about 30-40 Dreamer students at the college.

Approximately 100 Dreamers attend University of Washington while more than 150 attend Washington State University.

Amaya said a few students have reached out to Bellevue College’s Multicultural Services office wondering if their long-term education will be affected with the removal of the DACA program.

“Some of them are extremely anxious and worried, rightly so, that they will not be able to continue their education because the end of DACA is coming,” Amaya said, adding that they are also concerned about losing other state services. “So, definitely, you can hear in their voices their anxiety and worries in achieving their dreams, their educational goals.”

Amaya said he reassures students that the college will continue to provide support to them, continue to open their doors to everyone — including DACA students — and that, as long as the college has that policy, they will continue to find avenues to support their educational goals.

“Dreamers should not give up and believe they will lose their dreams,” Amaya said. “We want to continue to encourage all students to follow their dreams. Challenge is on the way, but if we work, as a community, I believe these challenges will be overcome.”

Bellevue School District Superintendent Dr. Ivan Duran wrote a message Sept. 8 following the Sept. 5 school board resolution in support of a bi-partisan approach to the future of current and eligible participants of DACA.

“The Bellevue School District will continue to provide a safe, inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all our students without regard to immigration status,” Duran wrote, adding that a number of the district’s students are likely concerned about the implications the end of DACA will have. “We do not, and will not, collect immigration information from any student or family.”

Duran said the school district will support those concerned about the impact of the end of DACA and said the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s website www.nwirp.org may help those who need more information.

“Our diversity is a key strength of our school community, and we recognize that all our students enhance our collective learning and enrichment,” he said.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said children who are part of DACA have oftentimes grown up just as American as their peers, they just lack a piece of paper.

“It’s frankly enraging,” she said. “I’m mad about this today.”

The King County Council unanimously endorsed a motion to call on Congress to defend the program on Sept. 5.

Hours before the County Council’s endorsement, an emergency rally in support of the program began that afternoon in Seattle. Hundreds of people turned out to the El Centro De La Raza’s courtyard to listen to speakers.

Washington state Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib of Bellevue addressed the crowd.

“As long as one person feels excluded in this state, we all feel excluded,” he said to applause.

Speakers ranging from individuals representing immigrant rights groups to student activists and union and tech representatives all took the stage to show support for DACA recipients.

According to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, which is part of a multi-state lawsuit to block President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA, there are about 18,000 Dreamers in Washington with 800,000 nationwide.

“Allowing nearly 18,000 Dreamers to live and work in Washington makes our communities stronger and better places to live,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that they can continue to feel secure in what is, for many of them, the only home they have ever known.”

Ferguson filed the lawsuit, co-led by Washington, New York and Massachusetts, with 15 other attorneys general in the Eastern District of New York on Sept. 6. The lawsuit alleges the president’s decision harms hundreds of thousands across the nation and “injures” colleges, universities, employers and state economies by removing protections that allow Dreamers to study and work legally without fear of deportation. Of the four lawsuits Ferguson has brought against the Trump administration, he has won all.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama created the program to allow children brought into the country through illegal immigration to remain in the country as long as they didn’t have a criminal record or were a threat to the public.

“All states like Washington step up to defend the young men and women who call this nation home and are working hard to contribute to our communities and economy, it is imperative that Congress steps up as well,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “There is no justification for inaction, indecision or equivocation. The time has come for each and every member of Congress to take a stand, demand a vote and pass the Dream Act.”

It’s estimated DACA-eligible residents contribute approximately $51 million each year in state and local taxes in Washington and ending DACA would cost Washington’s economy $258 million in lost tax revenue over a 10-year-period.

According to Homeland Security’s Secretary Elaine Duke, the decision to terminate the program “was not taken lightly.”

On June 29, the attorneys general of Texas and other states sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claiming the DACA program is unlawful for the same reasons the now-rescinded Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) was, as determined by the Fifth Circuit and district court. The letter said if Homeland Security didn’t rescind the June 2012 memo that created DACA, the states would seek to amend their DAPA lawsuit to include a challenge to the DACA program.

Sessions sent a letter to Duke Sept. 4, Homeland Security reported, stating it was his “legal determination” that the creation of DACA was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch,” i.e. President Barak Obama.

“This administration’s decision to terminate DACA was not taken lightly,” Duke said in response to the letter. “The Department of Justice has carefully evaluated the program’s Constitutionality and determined it conflicts with our existing immigration laws. As a result of recent litigation, we were faced with two options: wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation; or allow the judiciary to potentially shut the program down completely and immediately. We chose the least disruptive option.”

Homeland Security cut off all new applications to the program Sept. 5 and will allow those already enrolled, but whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, to renew their status no later than Oct. 5. The benefits will be provided on a two-year basis, which will include work authorizations, but will then end after they expire.

For more information on the end of DACA, visit www.uscis.gov/daca2017.

Reporter Aaron Kunkler contributed to this report.