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Presidents of Regional Colleges and Universities Discuss U.S. Dreamers

(l to r) NOVA President Scott Ralls; Georgetown University Junior Luis Gonzalez; Montgomery College President DeRionne P. Pollard; Georgetown University Junior Kamar Mack; George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera; and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia.
Brenda Medrano Frias
NOVA President Scott Ralls introduces NOVA Dreamer Brenda Medrano Frias to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia.

University and college presidents joined together in support of protecting U.S. Dreamers by participating in the panel discussion “Dreamers Making a Difference on Campuses and in Communities” on Monday, Oct. 16. Faculty, staff, students and supporters quickly filled the Copley Formal Lounge at Georgetown University for the event. The discussion was moderated by the university’s president John J. DeGioia.

In early September, President Donald Trump and his administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. The program allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to June 15, 2007 to become eligible for a work permit, a social security card, a driver’s license and deferred deportation. The program was terminated in its entirety and immediately stripped nearly 700,000 current recipients of their two-year work permits or deportation protections.

Northern Virginia Community College President Scott Ralls joined George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera and Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard on the panel as the higher education leaders discussed DACA and how higher education can show support to these students as Congress works toward a solution before March 5, 2018.

DeGioia declared in his welcome that the panel discussion is part of a significant effort to protect Dreamers through dialogue and advocacy campaigns and to show support for the Dream Act.

“We’re here today because of these extraordinary young people,” DeGioia said. “Their membership in our community, is not only welcomed, but vital.”

Luis Gonzalez, a junior at Georgetown, told his story to the audience before the start of the panel discussion. Gonzalez, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico in 2005 when he was 8 years old, said it’s important to talk about the individual stories and how the termination of DACA affects people’s lives. The student said Dreamers are only interested in living, thriving and continuing to contribute to their communities in America.

“I don’t want to go back to living in the shadows, for I am my family’s only hope for breaking the cycle of poverty,” Gonzalez said.

According to the Pew Research Center, there were more than 575,000 undocumented persons in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. as of 2014. Among those, 84,000 were eligible for the DACA program, and nearly half of all DACA recipients are in school or pursuing a college degree. There are approximately 23,000 DACA recipients in the DMV alone, and roughly 9,000 people in the region with DACA are working toward a degree.

NOVA has 708 DACA students enrolled throughout its six campuses. NOVA has a diverse student body, with students representing more than 120 different countries. Recently, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe hosted his 3rd Annual Latino Summit at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at NOVA-Alexandria.

During the discussion, Ralls emphasized that these students make a difference in their communities and are often student leaders among their peers.

“I know these students, not so much as Dreamers because they don’t wear badges, but as the leaders on our campuses. They’re making an impact on our campuses in a different way,” Ralls said. “I can’t imagine our colleges without them. We should not deny them the education that can change their lives, change their families and impact their communities.”

Cabrera highlighted the strong partnership George Mason University has with NOVA and how many of its students are transfers from NOVA – the largest community college in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Cabrera said he relates to today’s Dreamers because he is also an immigrant from Spain. He explained that the children didn’t have a choice in the decision made by their parents to come the U.S. in hopes of a better future. In addition, Cabrera said America would only be hurting itself by not figuring out a solution.

“If we don’t find a path for these students to stay here in the country they consider their homes, we’re failing ourselves,” Cabrera said.

Pollard added that DACA is one of the social justice issues of our time and it’s also an economic issue. She said we need to consider what those students contribute to colleges and universities, to their individual communities and to society. She also emphasized that on top of family, school and even work responsibilities, Dreamers are also now concerning themselves with the possibility of deportation.

The higher education leaders agreed that their institutions can show support by being a part of discussions about DACA and also listening to faculty and staff about how to best support Dreamers on their campuses. 

“Speak truth to power and provide resources for faculty and staff to support students,” Pollard said.

“We need to listen to our faculty and staff,” Ralls said. “Faculty often have the best ideas about how to support these students, so we need to empower them.”

Watch a video of the panel discussion here.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.