If you are an undocumented student at UC Berkeley, the city — let alone the nation — does not feel particularly hospitable. The threat of deportation assuredly looms like a weighted piano; much of the nation denies the legitimacy of your existence; and, lest it be forgotten, you have again been ushered onto the frontlines of America’s newest culture war, only to be wielded as a political cudgel.
The dilemma is not whether conservatives are right to deny your residency — this, I think, is a ludicrous position. The idea that the very party keen on refiguring the entire immigration system to be “totally merit-based” would want to deport UC Berkeley “Dreamers” is painfully hypocritical. But, let’s be generous. Let’s assume that the Republican Party wants recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, gone because they represent an existential threat to the nation’s identity.
Prima facie, that seems somewhat justifiable. Few nations are capable of withstanding en masse migrations of foreign peoples without enduring some kind of severe national strife. Don’t believe me? Just look to Western Europe, where a trickle of foreign migrants has inspired one of the most intense right-wing backlashes in the last century (see also, for reference, Douglas Murray’s “The Strange Death of Europe”). Of course, the annals of history are littered with similar dynamics: the ethnic skirmishes of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the fall of Rome, etc.
Can we now conclude that DACA recipients present an existential threat to the nation? No, and you would be short-sighted to think so. DACA recipients are definitionally more American than Mexican, Guatemalan or even El Salvadorian. If you left your home nation when you were 10, enrolled in American public schools and then went on to attend an American university, it’s doubtful that you are truly beholden to your former homeland. (Naweed Tahmas’ sophomoric attempt to equate “flag-waving” with “cultural subversion” is probably the most laughable defense of this position).
In other words, DACA recipients are probably not slowly eroding our national identity. Besides, the world’s preeminent super-power is going to tap out and publicly declare that the nation is just so fragile that it can’t handle about 700,000 teenagers (two-thirds of whom are 25 or younger)? Yeah, let’s up military spending to compensate.
Ultimately, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the UC Board of Regents and the Berkeley community are not wrong in finding DACA deportation reprehensible. Gov. Jerry Brown, after all, did approve measure SB 54 which “(affirms) California’s sanctuary status. AB 450 protects employees from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raids in the workplace, while SB 54 provides protection for undocumented residents.” Nor is Berkeley operating out of its legal right when it denies ICE information sharing. To paraphrase campus law professor Leti Volpp, federal law only dictates that you cannot outlaw information sharing with the federal government; it says nothing about forcing local law enforcement to inquire on the status of its citizens. Indeed, the campus community seems entirely justified in its refusal.
In some sense, Berkeley is saving face — the nation’s, I might add — by refusing to give up its students to ICE authorities. I mean, what would even be the point? Another international PR scandal? Satisfaction in having uprooted a child migrant who likely no longer identifies with his or her home community? Faithful adherence to Trumpian orthodoxy by complying with the federal government? Somehow, no option seems sound enough to justify deportation.
But, this is all to say that I have my hesitations: Berkeley’s decision to engage in civil disobedience sets a dangerous precedent. The federal government generally only overreaches when it concerns the “security” of the nation. While I do not think it is applicable in the case of DACA recipients, I might have different reservations when it comes to say something such as gun control — an understandably touchy topic. When the state marches to its own drum beat, the consequences are manifold.
Going forward, options are limited. Berkeley can only hold its ideological footing for so long; at some point, the federal government will do as it pleases. The only stopgap would seem a potent mixture of legal cannon fodder and public activism — two things of which the school apparently has in spades (see Carol Christ’s new DACA legal initiative, which offers $800,000 in aid).
For now, the end is nowhere near in sight. If anything, the left is likely going to cave and effectively solve the “DACA issue” by trading President Donald Trump a “serious border upgrade” for “amnesty.” Being a bargaining chip seems dehumanizing. In some sense, it is. In another, it’s understandably shrewd on the administration’s part.
All Berkeley can do now is wait, hope that its resources are enough and ride out what is — in the final analysis — just another battle in a long, exhausting clash of political civilizations.
Jacob Hands is a junior majoring in English and Economics.