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SOU president determined to keep DACA students

The fate of college students still under DACA protection is not yet clear, but SOU President Linda Schott's stance on their place at school is firm.

Schott has joined the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, SOU announced in a press release. She is one of 177 university chancellors and presidents who've joined the alliance, which formed Dec. 12, largely in response to President Donald Trump's September decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative implemented by former President Barack Obama.

DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and raised here to both defer potential deportation and apply for work and student visas. Any such person who arrived later than mid-2007, who was older than 31 or who had any kind of criminal record was not eligible to participate in the program.

Trump gave Congress six months to salvage whatever parts of the program it wants to keep. If it takes no action, the last DACA recipient's deferment will expire in March 2020.

In September, Schott said she would refuse to take any action to remove SOU students enrolled under DACA even if their protection is eliminated. She doubled down on that commitment last week.

“We do not have a large number of DACA students at SOU, but our institution recognizes that it is critically important for all people to have the opportunity to learn and grow,” Schott said in the release.

The group describes itself as "an alliance of American college and university leaders dedicated to increasing public understanding of how immigration policies and practices impact our students, campuses and communities." It supports "policies that create a welcoming environment for immigrant, undocumented and international students on our campuses."

The group so far has not announced any specific plans of action, but it said one of the ways it will achieve its goals is by supporting policies that support immigrant students, without regard for their legal status. SOU spokesman Joe Mosley said Saturday he was uncertain how Schott's involvement with the alliance might take shape.

"I think it's primarily a strength-in-numbers situation," Mosely said about the alliance. "Because numbers talk, and as support for this organization grows, it becomes apparent to lawmakers that they need to listen."

The university is also making its own plans as an institution. Mosely said Schott discussed a potential contingency option with the president of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico if DACA students at SOU were forced to leave the U.S. Schott was on a visit to Guanajuato, a sister city to Ashland, when Trump announced the program's rollback in September.

"(The president at Guanajuato) assured her that if any of SOU's students were deported, they would be welcome, and he even said there was a possibility they could come back to SOU as exchange students," Mosely said.

Several Mexican universities have opened their arms to potentially incoming DACA students since Trump's announcement, even offering to expedite some applications.

Eight of every 10 DACA recipients came from Mexico, according to Pew Research Center, totaling about 548,000 people. Having been raised in the U.S, however, many are not Spanish speakers and have never been to Mexico.

The Mail Tribune spoke in October to one SOU student pursuing a degree under DACA, Linda Escot, who was brought from Mexico at age 6. She said Mexico is like a foreign country to her.

Mosely said SOU has a "handful" of students who are DACA recipients, adding that regardless of the numbers, "it’s just a real core principle for us to support all of our students."

"And I don’t mean just DACA students," he said. "Every student has a right to be there for a good education."

Congress is more than three months into its six-month deadline to act on DACA. Although there has been talk of a vote possibly coming in January, no details about a plan have been revealed.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.