Education

Spellings says U.S. should keep promise to immigrant students

Spellings conferred as new UNC system president

Incoming UNC system president Margaret Spellings takes the oath of office from Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court Mark Martin during her October 2016 inauguration ceremony on the UNC-CH campus.
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Incoming UNC system president Margaret Spellings takes the oath of office from Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court Mark Martin during her October 2016 inauguration ceremony on the UNC-CH campus.

UNC President Margaret Spellings has made a national statement supporting “Dreamers,” students with temporarily protected immigration status, at a time when President Donald Trump ramps up plans for enforcement and deportation.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Spellings went to bat for students who are classified under the 2012 federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That policy was enacted by former President Barack Obama, and it authorized temporary resident status to students and workers who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

“Thousands of DACA students are working toward degrees, striving to become the teachers, nurses, business owners and good neighbors our country needs,” wrote Spellings, who was U.S. education secretary under Republican President George W. Bush. “They pay tuition without the help of state or federal financial aid and, depending on where they live, they often must pay much higher out-of-state tuition rates.”

Now, she added, under uncertain immigration policy, “these students are paralyzed, uncertain whether they can safely continue their studies.”

More than 750,000 young people are protected by the policy, including some 27,000 in North Carolina, according to the Pew Research Center. But fears have risen as the Trump administration begins tougher immigration enforcement.

So far, DACA has been left in place, and Trump said last week, “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.” While most are “incredible kids,” Trump said, he added, “in some of the cases, they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too.”

No class of immigrants has been specifically exempted from deportation by the new administration, and authorities recently arrested a man in Seattle with DACA protection after federal authorities accused him of being a gang member. The man’s lawyer denies that, and the case has raised fears among DACA recipients.

As UNC president for almost a year now, Spellings has been focused on a new strategic plan for the universities in North Carolina, but she has not shied away from taking stands on national education issues. Earlier this month, she appeared on “CBS This Morning” to support Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who had been under intense criticism during the confirmation process. Now Spellings is taking a more critical position of Trump.

Spellings described a recent conversation with a young woman who was brought to the United States at age 6 and now wants to finish her college degree to work in public health. “The unsettling rhetoric emanating from Washington is making that goal tougher for her and thousands like her,” Spellings wrote, without identifying whether the woman is a student in the UNC system.

“The lives and dreams of these students were never meant to be a political statement – they just want the chance to live honestly in the only home they’ve ever known,” she wrote.

Spelling echoed her stated belief that education is a civil right in the United States, and wrote that DACA should be part of it.

“These are our children, raised in our cities and towns and taught in our public schools,” she wrote. “They share our hopes and dreams for a better America. Their faith in this country is a blessing, if we have the grace to accept it.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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