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Political Science Professor Talks DACA and Immigrants

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By Diego Huaman

An associate professor of political science at Haverford College, Paulina Espejo, was a guest speaker for the International Studies Public Forum and gave a talk entitled, “Place-Specific Duties and the Rights of Immigrants” last Thursday, in which she utilized a territory-based perspective in order to explain why undocumented immigrants in the United States have a right to stay.

In 2012, President Barack Obama passed an executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which granted temporary legal status to approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors. DACA enabled many of them to complete their college education. However, despite initially reassuring DACA recipients that he would allow the program to continue, President Donald Trump made an announcement on Sept. 5 that he would terminate DACA after six months, pressuring Congress to act.

“The issue is not who but where,” said Espejo, referring to DACA recipients. “These people have a right to stay because they are here. Most people in the United States, including political philosophers, believe the right to stay comes from belonging to the community. If you believe in democracy and equal rights, then you should accept this membership view of citizenship.”  

When Obama passed the executive order, he said, “These are young people who study in our schools…they are Americans in their hearts, their minds, in every single way except one on paper.”

Currently, there is a legislative proposal known as the Dream Act that will allow DACA recipients to stay with a potential path to citizenship.

Arguing that parents of DACA recipients should also have a right to stay, Espejo said, “Aren’t they the ones who did something right raising these remarkable people? But they don’t have rights. For example, imagine a recipient of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans or DAPA. They have a right to stay now but say that their child passes away, now they don’t have a right to stay in this country. I think people could acknowledge there is something wrong there. If have they have the right before, they probably have the right afterwards.”

Using an example of volunteers forming a human chain to clear rubble after the earthquake that struck Mexico City on Sept. 19, Espejo talked about the significance of place and referenced the emphasis often placed on local communities.

“I think there is not only a network of relations but there are also are place-specific rights and duties. These comprise a level of morality that most can intuitively recognize, but theorists routinely overlook. In the example, there are relations established from one another but they have to do with the fact that they are there together and their relationship to the environment.”

Instead of considering identity and a political group that looks like a family, Espejo’s argument focuses on presence and the notion of a group that looks more like an ecosystem connected to a place.

“If citizens want to do what is right, they need the cooperation of their neighbors. For this reason, the right thing to do to is to give legal rights to those who are present in a place.”

Espejo has conducted research on contemporary political theory and the history of political thought. Previously, she has written “The Times of Popular Sovereignty: Process and the Democratic State,” and her latest project is entitled ”Just Borders: Peoples, Territories, and the Rights of Place.”