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Rutgers University president encourages students to push for protections for illegal alien students

Hundreds of Rutgers University students block College Ave., in New Brunswick, N.J., as they march to protest some of President Donald Trump's immigration policies. (AP/Mel Evans)

Rutgers University's president is encouraging students who feel strongly about protections for students who are in the country illegally to advocate for legislation that would extend protections for some.

In a campus-wide email Tuesday, Rutgers President Robert Barchi encouraged students to send a letter to their U.S. senator in support of the Bridge Act, bipartisan legislation that would extend protections for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

"Many students at the University have called for protections for undocumented students. This legislation would provide those protections," Barchi said. "If you feel strongly about this issue, I encourage you to follow the directions below to send an automatic letter to your US Senators and your member in the House of Representatives."

Introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in December, the Bridge Act would extend "provisional protected presence" to those who are eligible for or already have the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA. An Obama administration policy, DACA protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children insofar as it allows them to receive work authorization and provisional protection from deportation.

The Bridge Act would not provide a pathway to citizenship.

Graham said of the bill at its introduction:

In my view, the DACA Executive Order issued by President Obama was unconstitutional and President-elect Trump would be right to repeal it. However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women — who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government — back into the darkness. Our legislation continues to provide legal status to them for three years as Congress seeks a permanent solution. These young people have much to offer the country and we stand to benefit from the many contributions they will make to America. I’m confident that if President-elect Trump were to support this measure we can repeal the unconstitutional Executive Order and Congress will provide temporary legal status through the proper constitutional process.

Rutgers students and professors have called on the public university in New Jersey to become a so-called "sanctuary campus" — where the college would provide a safe haven for enrolled students who are in the country illegally and not allow for them to be deported.

Barchi addressed the concerns for undocumented students in a letter to the Rutgers community in November. He did not use the term "sanctuary campus," but he did promise to protect students' privacy and ensured that campus police does not record or ask the immigration status of students.

Peter McDonough, senior vice president of the Department of External Affairs, told the Daily Targum that Barchi's latest email helps students who care about the future of their fellow undocumented students to become more involved politically.

"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 told the campus newspaper.

In just the first three hours after Barchi sent the email, McDonough said more than 3,400 messages were sent to lawmakers through the automated form included in the email.

Barchi stressed in his email that contacting one's lawmaker is optional.

"While I personally support extending the current DACA protections, I understand that some of you may not," he said.

He continued:

I would never presume to tell you what to do with respect to legislative advocacy. 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 call to action is intended to provide you with a way, if you so choose, to express support for legislation that would achieve the public policy for which so many of you have been advocating.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he would repeal DACA as president, although that might not be a promise on which he will follow through.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that ending DACA was not a top priority for Trump. Instead, Spicer said, Trump wishes "to focus on those who are in this country illegally and have a record, a criminal record, or pose a threat to the American people."

Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law in 2013 legislation that allows for undocumented students in New Jersey to be eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges.

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