Amid concerns about the future of a program that shields undocumented youth from deportation, Arizona State University President Michael Crow said the university's commitment to undocumented students "remains unchanged."
"The Arizona Constitution requires that our public-school system 'shall be open to all the children of the state,'" Crow said in a statement released on Wednesday. "It is an obligation that ASU takes seriously. And, particularly when it comes to immigrants, it is one that I take personally."
Crow's statement comes in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who made a campaign promise to "immediately terminate" the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Announced by President Obama in 2012, the program temporarily protects undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to legally work in the United States.
Crow's statement also comes a few days after a group of professors sent a letter to the presidents of Arizona's public colleges and universities, asking them to take measures to protect DACA students.
Belen Sisa, a junior pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science at ASU, is one of the more than 27,000 undocumented immigrants who've been approved for the DACA program in Arizona. She's also one of the DACA students at ASU who worry they won't be able to continue their education if Trump succeeds in dismantling the program.
"DACA pretty much changed our entire lives," Sisa told New Times in a recent interview. "If it were to be taken away, there would be a lot of uncertainty."
Crow attempted to ease those concerns. In his statement, he provided answers to questions his office has received regarding the status of DACA students.
He first noted the Arizona Board of Regents' position that DACA students are eligible for in-state tuition at all three Arizona public universities hasn't changed.
"We recognize that DACA students are nevertheless anxious and concerned about their future," Crow stated. "Therefore, ASU will make counseling services available to them on a confidential basis."
If DACA were to be eliminated, Crow vowed, ASU would "rise to the challenge."
"If students lose the status that makes them eligible for in-state tuition, ASU will convene and engage the community on this issue to seek financial support for the continued study of students at ASU who graduated from Arizona high schools and who are qualified to attend the state universities – regardless of their immigration status," he stated.
Crow said the university has already begun discussions with the scholarship fund TheDream.US about using private dollars to secure scholarships for DACA students in case the program is eliminated. ASU previously partnered with TheDream.US on a scholarship program for DACA students enrolled in ASU's online degree programs.
He added the university will continue to work and communicate "at multiple levels with various internal and external communities and constituencies about the importance of inclusivity in all that we do."
Crow has a longstanding history of supporting undocumented students. He has advocated for the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Following the passage of Proposition 300, which requires undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition and makes them ineligible for state and federal financial aid, Crow worked with community leaders to raise millions of dollars to help undocumented students complete their education at ASU.
On Wednesday, he reiterated his support for undocumented students and said he had added his name to the list of more than 250 college and university presidents who are in support of the DACA program.
"In summary, ASU will continue to advance the economic competitiveness of our State through the education of all qualified students," Crow said. "The future of Arizona's economic competitiveness requires that we have an educated workforce. As our founders recognized, it is essential to our democracy."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.