The board that oversees Arizona's three state universities voted Friday to urge president-elect Donald Trump to protect students who were illegally brought into the country when they were children, while specifically rejecting efforts to designate the schools as "sanctuary campuses."
The Arizona Board of Regents voted unanimously to send a letter to Trump applauding his efforts to boost border security but saying that he should work with Congress to protect the students. Trump campaigned on ending President Barack Obama's immigration actions, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA. That program has given work permits and relief from deportation to more than 700,000 young immigrants, about 27,000 in Arizona.
"Those who were brought here as young children simply did not have capacity to violate our immigration laws and therefore it is not a grant of amnesty to accommodate them," Arizona Regent Jay Heiler said.
"There's a lot of concern among the DACA students here across Arizona State University some students that aren't even in the university yet, wondering what the future's going to look like," DACA student Gabriel Gamino said.
The letter notes that allowing the student to legally stay in the U.S. is within the rule of law because most were brought to the U.S. when they "lacked meaningful capacity to have violated our immigration laws."
Board chair Greg Patterson said Arizona's university system will not do what others across the nation are doing -- considering or adopting policies that give sanctuary to students living in the U.S. without authorization.
"We're not going to be a sanctuary campus. It's pretty clear in here that we say we're going to follow the law," Patterson said. "That's just the answer - we're going to follow the law."
Northern Arizona University President Rita Chang told the board that she appreciated the board position about following the law.
"Your letter helps to reinforce that we're following the law, we will always follow the law and that we advocate for the DACA students but we're not going to be sanctuary campuses, and I appreciate that," Chang said.
But a DACA student who attended the meeting said the board's letter essentially was "throwing our parents under the bus" by making a legal distinction between them and their children.
"Our parents are not criminals, they brought us here for a reason," Arizona State University communications major Korina Iribe told the board. "We can't be here without our families. Our families are our backbone and our strength, and we want relief for them just as much as we want it for us.
NAU, ASU and the University of Arizona collectively have 240 DACA students but many more are likely in coming years. The students have paid in-state tuition since a court ruling in mid-2015 after a judge found that the DACA program grants legal presence in the country to its recipients. Former Attorney General Tom Horne contended that a 2006 voter-enacted law known as Proposition 300 barred the state benefits.
Trump this week adopted a far more sympathetic tone toward the young immigrants known to their supporters as "Dreamers."
"We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," Trump told Time Magazine. "They got brought here at a very young age, they've worked here, they've gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in never-never land because they don't know what's going to happen."
Board member Jay Heiler said he worked to craft the letter because he wanted to offer Trump a straight-up legal analysis free of politics.
"We wanted to stay focused on the issue at hand ... and the individuals at hand," Heiler said. "This isn't about labels and words and hot-buttons and media fandangos, this is about human beings."
Anyone with questions concerning DACA may attend a summit hosted by Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego and immigration attorneys on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Phoenix College Bulpitt Auditorium at 15th Avenue and Thomas Road.