Felician University Statement on the Repeal of DACA

Almost all readers were unimpressed with the “Statement of the Faculty of Felician University” that I posted here in January, responding to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. I’m happy to report that Felician’s president, Anne Prisco, has released a statement that takes a much stronger and more substantive position on the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. I’ve excerpted it below the fold. I’m grateful for it.

I can’t help remembering the “proseminars on pedagogy” I attended back in grad school, intended to prepare us for the ups and downs of college-level teaching. Oddly enough, I don’t ever remembering anyone’s covering “what to do when the federal authorities come in force to campus, invade your classroom, and seize your students as a preliminary to deportation.” But hey–the great thing about this job is that it forces you to learn new things. What I’ve learned is a twist on the old cliche that “life is a journey”: for some of us, it promises to be a journey from the classroom to a prison cell, and from there to a permanent exile from the country of one’s birth.

To be honest, if such deportations are to take place at all, I prefer that they take place on campus. Better collectively to have to bear witness to them than to have the luxury of pretending that they aren’t happening.

Dear members of the Felician University Community,

This letter addresses the federal administration’s recent announcement to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. As a Felician Franciscan community, we uphold the values of compassion, respect for human dignity and justice and peace. As expressed by Cardinal Tobin:

“The rule of law, first, last and always, must provide a humane, moral code to organize, protect and advance society based on the best ideals and beliefs in our hearts and minds. Catholic teaching calls all people to make a commitment to uphold the dignity of every person and to work for the common good of our nation.”

We affirm our care for every individual, and the University community extends its support to any in need of counsel. The Counseling Center (Room 4B, Student Center, Rutherford campus, 201-559-3587); peer-to-peer resident advisors (Office of Residence Life, 201- 559-3506); and Dr. Ronald Gray, Dean of Students, (Room 4A, Student Center, Rutherford campus 201-559-3564) are available to any concerned Felician student for confidential discussions. For those concerned about the likelihood of immigration officials coming to our campus, note that in 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identified schools, including higher education institutions as “sensitive locations.” This designation advises that immigration enforcement actions (such as arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance operations) be avoided at sensitive locations. Should you encounter any law enforcement individual on campus, our protocol is to immediately notify Security (Rutherford x3561; Lodi x6011).

I ask each of you to reach out to your members of Congress and urge them to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act 2017. This critical legislation will create a future for those impacted by the nullification of DACA, some 800,000 people who came to the U.S. as children and know no other home. Rather than incite fear among our country’s immigrant population, we need to strongly urge Congress to provide a path by which these young immigrants who contribute to American society as students, laborers, military members and business owners may achieve citizenship in a country that was founded by immigrants. Click here to make your voices heard. It is, simply, the right thing to do.

In addition, we need to embrace our Felician Franciscan values and join together in prayer for those fearful for their families and their futures as a result of DACA’s demise. We also need to pray for our lawmakers, that they engage in moral, honest, and open conversation guided by compassion, fairness, and respect for human dignity.

I ask that you join me in passionately affirming our support of these students and the original intent of this country to be a safe home for those seeking freedom and prosperity.

Peace and blessings,
Anne M. Prisco, Ph.D

4 thoughts on “Felician University Statement on the Repeal of DACA

  1. Now that’s how an institution can take a stand without speaking for its members. It no doubt helps that the bishops are virtually unanimous on this issue, which is more or less a no-brainer from a Catholic point of view, despite the desperate equivocations of many right-wing folks who also go to mass and the sophistry of Steve Bannon (some intra-Catholic discussions on my Facebook feed over the past few days have devolved into semantic bickering about the word ‘doctrine,’ with most on the anti-immigration side failing to savor the irony of a bunch of conservative Catholics saying, in effect, ‘well, it’s not infallible, so….’). But the nice thing here is that Prisco doesn’t pretend to speak for every individual, or try to write some document that individuals can be expected to sign; she just speaks as the president of the institution, commits the institution to a certain point of view, and asks individual members to affirm it. Pretty nice, I’d say. Then again, maybe if I disagreed with the substance of the position, I’d feel differently.

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    • Yes. Obviously, I agree. I not only liked that Prisco took this stand, but liked how she did it.

      For whatever it’s worth, I don’t feel differently in the cases where Felician has taken stands like this, and I do disagree with the substance of the position, e.g., abortion. I’m pro-choice on abortion, but Felician, being a Catholic-Franciscan university, is institutionally committed to being against abortion (in favor of its criminalization). It has an Office of Mission Integration, and in the past OMI has taken fairly explicit stands against abortion, inviting students to pro-life events in Washington, D.C. and nearby. (I say “in the past” because OMI has a new director this semester, and I don’t know whether or not she’ll follow suit.)

      At one level of description, I don’t agree with what they’re saying or doing (since I’m pro-choice), but at another, given their views, I do. The institution is within its rights to promote a specific moral conception, at least in a way that respects the moral autonomy of its members, and the overarching purpose of a university itself. Actually “within its rights” understates things: at a certain level, I think a university ought to promote, or stand for, a specific moral conception.

      That’s part of the reason why I took issue with Jason Brennan’s claim that anyone committed to an anti-abortion position is obliged to pick up a machine gun and start shooting abortion doctors. Though I’m not shy about criticizing my institution when it deserves criticism, I like the fact that it’s committed to a certain conception of the common good (and is willing to say so). That commitment is what stands between its anti-abortion moral conception and the tactics Brennan infers from it.

      As you say, certain asymmetries made this statement easier for Prisco than ours was for us back in January. Faculty at Felician lack tenure, and had to get a majority vote out of 100+ faculty members, some of them Trump supporters. (Some of the Trustees may well be Trump supporters, as well.) We had no political cover, and it was probably obvious to most people that our statement was, at least implicitly, a criticism of the sheer fact that Trump had been elected and was being inaugurated. By contrast, Prisco has the backing of the bishops and Cardinal Tobin (and for that matter, Dolan), she doesn’t answer to anyone but the Board of Trustees (who could hardly dispute the church on this), and she was taking issue with a specific policy that’s likely to have measurably adverse effects on the university (deportations are bad for an institution that relies so heavily on a tuition-based revenue stream). But I still found the statement admirable, and like how it was done.

      Speaking of Cardinal Tobin, though Cardinal Dolan’s statement is getting most of the news, I actually thought that Tobin’s statement on DACA was the better of the two. (Tobin is archbishop of Newark, Dolan of New York City.) I particularly liked this last-ish paragraph from Tobin’s statement:

      The rule of law, first, last and always, must provide a humane, moral code to organize, protect and advance society based on the best ideals and beliefs in our hearts and minds. Catholic teaching calls all people to make a commitment to uphold the dignity of every person and to work for the common good of our nation. Rescinding DACA without having in place through Congress an equivalent and permanent protection for these Americans does not advance society or exemplify our best ideals and beliefs. It is, rather, an abandoning of humanity.

      All three sentences are exactly on point. I actually prefer this way of putting things to the standard stuff I’ve been hearing from local activists. What is particularly objectionable about the rescinding of DACA is not so much the argument over its legality per se, but about the injustice of rescinding it without having anything in place to do the work it was doing–as though the work it was doing was superfluous.

      What I find remarkable about this is that we’re constantly told that we’re in the middle of an “opioid crisis,” and that that crisis calls for the increased availability by law enforcement agencies of Narcan (naxolone) to respond to 911 calls about it. But isn’t opioid abuse against the law? So what’s with all this Narcan boo-hooing? And why all these soft-hearted directives from the CDC, HHS, NIDA and on down? Believe it or not, opioid abuse is not just illegal in the case of “prescribers” (the impression one gets) but of users. So if a local PD gets a 911 call for a drug-related “issue,” let’s call it, shouldn’t their first response be enforcement of “the law”? And doesn’t that mean that they should be trained in how to cuff and jail opioid addicts rather than in administering cans of naxolone to them?

      And yet, where I live and work, even the Prosecutor’s Office keeps bragging about turning cops into paramedics and social workers. They’re not bragging about how insensitively they can enforce the law, but about how sensitively they can bend it. Whatever happened to the FOP’s endorsement of a real commitment to real law enforcement? If we treated opioid addicts and abusers the way we treat illegal immigrants, we could in principle “deport” them either to jail cells or to the morgue.

      But we aren’t doing that, and the implication is that, morally speaking, we can’t. When opioid addicts “break the law,” we’re told, they deserve compassion. According to our Governor, the opioid epidemic is like another 9/11 happening every three weeks. No word on the fact that this tri-weekly 9/11 is also an epidemic of law-breaking by a cohort of law-breakers that’s a lot easier to catch and incarcerate than the average undocumented immigrant.

      Just as illegal immigrants “should have known” that by breaking the laws of our great land, they put themselves and their children in legal jeopardy, so, you’d think, opioid users “should have known” that by breaking the drug possession laws of our great land, they did something comparable. So if we’re taking law-breaking as sufficient to destroy lives in the one case, why not do so in both–or in all? But no: when illegal immigrants break the law (or their parents do), well–they deserve deportation. Because there are rules, and we ought simply to enforce them. But drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and DUI–well that’s different. (If we treated DUI the way we treat undocumented immigration, wouldn’t a first offense entail life imprisonment without parole?)

      From “Give me liberty or give me death!” to “Give us Narcan and give us deportations!” Quite a descent.

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      • A bit of elaboration:

        In the substance abuse and addiction field, codes of federal regulations (CFR) place specific mandates on client confidentiality. These regulations, called 42 CFR, were created in 1975 (and amended in 1987) and established to guarantee confidentiality for individuals who were skittish about seeking help for substance abuse (Fisher & Harrison 2009). Consider the resistance a client addicted to cocaine, an illegal substance, might experience when calling a treatment facility to schedule an appointment. Aside from anxieties about the treatment process, he also is essentially admitting that he has broken the law (Fisher & Harrison, 2009).

        According to Fisher and Harrison (2009), 42 CFR addresses disclosure of records and other information on substance abuse clients. The authors’ interpretation of this legislation and advice to practicing substance abuse clinicians is to avoid disclosing to anybody, if possible. In essence, any mental health professional who works for a program that receives federal assistance of any kind and provides any substance abuse counseling or treatment services must comply with 42 CFR. …

        Although federal regulations, codes, and laws can make practitioners nervous, the strictness behind 42 CFR is necessary given the nature of substance abuse and addiction and its perception in society. It is a code that can help reluctant clients seek the help they need because they can be assured that their confidentiality is protected. however, as with any confidentiality law, there are a few exceptions to 42 CFR in which the substance abuse clinician would not be held liable for disclosure. These include client written consent, communication among staff within an organization, medical emergencies, and committing a crime by the client on agency premises or against an agency staff member (Miller, 2005).

        Todd F. Lewis, Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment: Practical Application of Counseling Theory, pp. 26-27.

        Fisher, G.L. & Harrison, T.C. (2009). Substance abuse: Information for school counselors, social workers, therapists, and counselors (4th ed.)

        Miller, G. (2005). Learning the language of addiction counseling (2nd ed.)

        The sheer fact that the client has admitted to breaking laws regarding possession of a controlled substance is not an exception–a fact drilled into the head of every would-be clinician in training.

        In other words, every addictions counseling facility in the United States (on the broadest possible construal of that phrase) is, by law, a mini-sanctuary against the drug laws. Substance counselors are mandated, by law, to give confidentiality, sanctuary, and of course sustained treatment to people who come in, expressly, to confess to violations of the law.

        I suppose a determined legal positivist might point out that federal law, duly passed by Congress, is what creates the sanctuary against the other laws passed by Congress. In other words, there is an aboveboard legal basis for the “drug treatment sanctuary” but none in the case of DACA, which came about by (supposedly illegal) executive order. But the whole point of the DREAM legislation (and indeed, of amnesty) is to confer on undocumented immigrants the kind of legalized protections afforded to substance abusers. It’s telling that despite the stigma against them, substance abusers have gotten 40+ years of federally-mandated protection, but immigrants are being told that they have to be deported because they’re “breaking the law.”

        On top of that, the Trump Administration has the nerve to tell us that they’re stepping up the drug war. If they really wanted to “step it up,” the thing to do would be to drive a SWAT team up to every location receiving federal funds for substance counseling, bust in, stop and frisk everyone in the place, and throw them all in the slammer–starting with the opioid addicts. Or, equivalently: drive the same SWAT team onto any suburban college campus on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night, and see how many under-aged drinkers you find (with pot smokers a bonus, along with the off-label users of Adderall, Ritalin, etc.). Or shoot your way into a suburban apartment complex on the same nights (or for that matter, affluent urban condos), sniff around for the weed, and rack ’em up. Chances of any of that happening? Zero. Probability of deportation for undocumented immigrants located in the same places? A lot higher than zero.

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        • A classic in the genre: “A Month Has Passed Since Trump Declared an Opioid Emergency. What Next?” Some gems:

          During the primary campaign last year, Mr. Trump surged to victory in New Hampshire in part on his promise to focus on the opioid crisis, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and shown little sign of abating. The issue was championed most forcefully in that primary by Mr. Christie, who has spoken about the need for benevolence in treating addiction as a disease rather than a crime.

          But I thought it was a crime.

          The report calls the roughly 142 Americans who die from opioid overdoses every day “a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.” Among its recommendations is a law shielding people who report overdoses, an expansion of Medicaid-funded drug treatment, and a requirement that law enforcement officers carry naloxone, which counteracts the effects of an overdose.

          But the 9/11 death toll didn’t consist of law-breakers requiring immunity from the laws they broke, did it?

          And the message of benevolence toward drug users has been at odds with the tone set by the president’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been pushing more aggressive, war-on-drugs-style tactics in cities. The president himself has been prone to such language at times, creating a whipsaw effect.

          You might even say that the president is addicted to “such language.” At any rate, why restrict the tough tactics to the cities? Instead of describing the “opioid epidemic” as a “national emergency,” why not treat it as a national “menace” and declare war on everyone involved with it?

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