Perhaps that’s because, as Pasquerella contended, higher-education leaders don’t see DACA as a partisan issue. “We do need to steer clear of making partisan statements. We serve a diversity of perspectives, and we seek the truth,” she said. “At the same time, we do have values to serve, and these are not partisan values. When we say that there are a group of young people who deserve to be protected, who deserve to live the American dream, these are human right issues that go beyond any partisan perspective.” (It’s also worth noting that universities have a financial interest in DACA’s continuation: For many institutions, losing undocumented students could mean forfeiting a large chunk of tuition revenue.)
To Wellmon, the fact that these letters are personal appeals by university presidents makes what he sees as their lack of precise language all the more frustrating. “To my mind, the opportunity to write in the first person [is an opportunity] draw on local experiences, local conditions, local stories where you actually can talk about particular instances in classrooms or in labs. ... As a president, you know particular students whom this will affect. Tell their story. Tell how their absence at your university is going to make the classroom, the lab, the library, the classroom experience that much more impoverished,” he said.
It remains unclear what exactly a college campus can do to protect its undocumented students in the face of federal enforcement. Students across the country have requested that their schools adopt “sanctuary campus” status and thereby refuse to turn over undocumented students to immigration officials. But many argue that this designation is largely symbolic; were federal enforcement officers to arrive on campus, the legal protections campuses have against such action are limited. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Duke, for example, are not sanctuary campuses; the university presidents have all argued that this status has little or no legal basis, and some have argued that it could even have the unintended effect of calling more attention to undocumented students on campus.
These presidents’ letters come amidst a flurry of statements this week by business, government, and religious leaders. The American Council on Education submitted a letter on behalf of many of the major higher-education organizations, reiterating support for the March letter written by university presidents urging Trump to protect DACA. Among the mass statements in recent weeks have been one by a group of over 1,300 Catholic educators and one from over 100 law professors arguing for the legal basis of DACA. On Wednesday, over 1,800 community leaders, including some university presidents, signed onto a mass letter to Trump.
One of the signatories on the Wednesday letter, President Timothy L. Snyder of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said in an interview that while he plans on calling the White House Friday, he did not consider writing his own letter. “I think it’s more powerful when we work across institutions,” he said. “We speak in unity, and it’s not one person bottled in one institution, but rather it’s a spectrum. We’re unified on this issue.”