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Rutgers president invites students to advocate for BRIDGE Act

President Robert L. Barchi sent an email to the Rutgers community on Monday, encouraging support of a legislative act that would protect the status of DACA students. The email included a link for students to contact their legislators, which students used to send more than 3,400 messages.  – Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez

Students have the opportunity to advocate for bipartisan legislation that would cement Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection for undocumented students, University President Robert L. Barchi said in an email on Monday.

This follows several protests last semester where Rutgers students called for the school to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” and protect undocumented students from potential deportation by then President-elect Donald J. Trump. Instead, Barchi announced that the University would be a “safe haven” for students.

“Many students at the University have called for protections for undocumented students. This legislation would provide those protections,” he said in the email. “If you feel strongly about this issue, I encourage you to … send an automatic letter to your U.S. senators and your member in the House of Representatives.”

The legislation in question is known as the BRIDGE Act (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream of Growing our Economy) and was sponsored by both Republican and Democratic senators last year. It effectively secures the protections afforded by former President Barack Obama’s executive order authorizing DACA.

The act will allow all current DACA students to retain their status.

Barchi’s email encouraging students to advocate for the act is a way of helping students to become more involved with the political instruments surrounding undocumented immigrants who are students, said Peter McDonough, senior vice president of the Department of External Affairs at Rutgers.

“(For) any number of students protesting, demonstrating, calling for an extension of DACA, this is an opportunity,” he said.

Last fall, students participated in several protests in response to certain comments made by Trump during his campaign that were deemed as anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Our hope is that we’re giving students who would like to support extending DACA protections a way to speak up and let their voices be heard in a way that is more direct and more constructive (by) reaching out directly to their members of Congress,” McDonough said.

In the first three hours after the email was sent out, he said more than 3,400 messages were sent through the included automated form.

Students are not required to fill out the form or sign anything, he said.

“(Barchi) has made this option available but he recognizes that some people do not agree and he just wants people to participate,” he said. “There’s room for disagreement and certainly those students who want to voice an opposing opinion are welcome to do that, but that is not the position we are taking.”

Rutgers’ president emphasized the point in his email, telling students that it was not mandatory to fill out the form.

“I would never presume to tell you what to do with respect to legislative advocacy,” he said. “We are offering this option to you because many in our community have participated in activities to bring attention to the plight and status of undocumented students.”

This is not the first time Rutgers has been involved in supporting the BRIDGE Act. Last fall, Barchi signed a letter supporting DACA and the protections it provides undocumented immigrants, McDonough said.

DACA was first launched as an executive order by Obama in 2012, and was opposed by Trump during his campaign.

On Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said repealing DACA may not necessarily be a priority for Trump.

McDonough said this creates some breathing room for students who were afraid of being deported and allows proponents of the bill to take more time in ensuring it is passed.

“It does create some flexibility and time for the Senate,” he said. “I’m sure there are students who will be comforted by that statement.”

This is not the first time Rutgers has involved itself in advocating for a piece of legislation, McDonough said. The Department of External Affairs has an entire section dedicated to advocating within the government — the Office of Government Affairs.

This office is charged with helping students by working with the nation’s leaders. In the past it has worked on securing funding for financial aid, among other issues, he said.

Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for federal and state financial aid programs like Pell grants, McDonough said. Rutgers cannot grant any special financial aid based on a student’s immigration status as the school does not ask for that information.

In December 2013, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) signed the Tuition Equality Act — otherwise known as the New Jersey Dream Act — into law, allowing undocumented students in the state to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities and colleges.

“When Governor Christie signed the Dream Act into law, he said loudly and clearly what the policy is on undocumented students who arrived in this state as children and have spent years in the school system in New Jersey, and have become, for all intents and purposes, just another Jersey kid,” he said.

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