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Cindy Cheng

Professor Cindy I-Fen Cheng says UW-Madison lags behind its peers in support for Dreamer students.

University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and staff who have been working with DACA or Dreamer students want the university to establish a formal process to assist them and other students and staff who are undocumented.

A task force has been working on issues affecting “Dreamers,” young people who were brought into the country illegally as children and remain undocumented, for the past year, said Cindy I-Fen Cheng, an associate professor of Asian-American Studies in the History Department.

Incorporating an Advisory Council on Immigration and International Student Issues would represent a formal institutional attempt to help undocumented students address related issues, Cheng said. Doing so would help the campus catch up with peer institutions on the issue, she said.

“I would venture, compared to other Big Ten schools, we have not been as proactive in dedicating staff to this issue,” Cheng on Monday told members of the University Committee, the executive committee of the Faculty Senate. Other UW campuses also have dedicated staff to work with undocumented students, she said.

At UW-Madison, dedicating a graduate student employee to work on immigration issues recently has been approved in the Division of Student Life. Cheng said it is hoped that permanent funding for the position can be obtained.

The campus International Student Services office assists foreign students in complying with federal immigration law and adjusting to life in the U.S. on and off campus.

The task force working with undocumented students developed a website with information and resources, along with links to UW-Madison statements on undocumented and non-citizen members of the campus community.

Campus officials articulated policy on undocumented students shortly after the election of President Donald Trump, who promised to tighten up on immigration during his campaign. Trump last September ended the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, which delayed deportation of qualifying young people who entered the U.S. illegally as children. The renewal of DACA status was to have ended Monday, but the Supreme Court on Monday refused to review lower court rulings requiring the renewals to continue while legal challenges to Trump’s order make their way through the courts.

So, Dreamers remain in legal limbo. They may legally apply to, and be admitted to the university, and also have permits allowing them to work.

The proposed committee at UW-Madison would include faculty, staff and students.

It would advise campus administration and governance bodies on immigration and international issues affecting students, faculty and staff, and how policies impact those groups.

UW-Madison does not inquire about immigration status in the application process and committee members raised concerns about identifying students as DACA holders.

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“It is true there are privacy concerns and questions about whether or not a student feels comfortable coming forward as undocumented,” Cheng said. “But every school faces these issues and it has not been an obstacle to forming support groups.”

Assistance that would not require documenting the status of students includes such things as compiling a guide to financial aid that does not require students to prove legal presence in the United States. While not subject to deportation under DACA, Dreamers are not eligible for federal financial aid or resident tuition rates at UW schools.

Immigration issues facing international students at UW-Madison include uncertainty about the availability of H-1B visas. Trump has promised to restrict renewals of those visas, which allow U.S. companies to hire foreign workers to fill high-skill jobs in which there is a reported shortage of qualified American workers. Uncertainty about the program makes international students less attractive to U.S. employers.

Professor Anja Wanner, chair of the University Committee, predicted “resounding support” for the proposal.

It is scheduled to be presented to the Faculty Senate on Monday, March 5.

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