A group of professors is calling on Arizona's public colleges and universities to protect undocumented students who may face deportation under President-elect Donald Trump.
The group fears Trump will end a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that temporarily shields undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to legally work in the U.S.
While visiting Arizona in August, Trump said that as president he would "immediately terminate" the DACA program, which President Obama created through executive action in 2012.
The professors say they fear ending DACA will place undocumented students currently benefiting from the program at risk of deportation. On Thursday, they sent a letter to the presidents of Arizona's public institutions of higher education asking them to take measures to protect DACA students.
"We ask that Arizona's universities and colleges take steps to ensure all students, regardless of background, beliefs, or immigration status, will be supported in pursuit of their studies and degree completion," the letter reads. "We also ask that you protect all members of the community from unfair deportation, investigation, or other intimidation, as well as unfair prosecution."
More than 1,200 professors, faculty members, and students from across the state signed the letter.
It states that students' privacy should remain confidential and that DACA students should be allowed to continue paying in-state tuition rates.
It also calls for counseling services to be made available to DACA students on a "strictly confidential basis." And in the event of an arrest, imprisonment, or deportation, the letter says, DACA students should be able to continue their studies online.
Joe Lockard, an associate professor of English at Arizona State University who helped write the letter, told New Times these measures "should be taken immediately because the students are in panic right now."
"There's a sense of crisis in the Arizona community over what will happen particularly to the DACA students," Lockard said.
The letter comes as the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, finds that ending DACA would result in a $433.4 billion loss in the nation's gross domestic product over a decade.
It also comes as college students from across the nation are walking out to protest Trump's immigration proposals, which include ramping up deportations. They want their colleges and universities to declare themselves "sanctuary campuses" and essentially protect undocumented students from deportation.
In Arizona, more than 27,000 undocumented young immigrants have been approved for the DACA program, according to the latest data available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Many of them have been able to get higher-paying jobs, become homeowners, and obtain driver's licenses.
Others, like Belen Sisa, have been able to continue their education.
Sisa, a 22-year-old immigrant from Argentina, said DACA allowed her to pay in-state tuition at Arizona State University, where she's a junior pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science. Last year, the Arizona Board of Regents decided to allow DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition rates at Arizona's three public universities.
"DACA pretty much changed our entire lives," Sisa told New Times. "If it were to be taken away, there would be a lot of uncertainty."
But she said she finds comfort in knowing that professors are advocating on behalf of undocumented students like her.
"It's very heartwarming," she said. "I think that what led them to do this was that they were able to see the potential in undocumented students and to see everything that we have to offer."
Lockard said he has had undocumented students in his classroom and knows that they make "enormous efforts to get to the university." He added that he believes they shouldn't be denied a chance to continue their education.
"My own personal perspective is that education is a universal human right," he said. "It's not determined by immigration status. It is an inherent right for every human being."