DACA: Why this issue is important to psychologists and Div. 6.

How can psychologists and members of Div. 6 express their concerns about policy?

By George Michel, PhD

It began with an email greeting: “Hello all,” to the members of the Executive Committee of Div. 6 from one of the members of Div. 6. The writer expressed the “horror, sadness and anger” experienced when watching Trump scrap the DACA act. The email called for some sort of opposition to this decision, (which, according to later news reports, the president poorly understood the act and did not consider the consequences of the decision)

Although an immigrant, the email writer noted, the cost was tens of thousands in legal fees for self and spouse achieved permanent residency via a National Interest Waiver. “I consider myself fortunate and I consider myself an American,” the writer stated. “Many immigrants do not have these resources, nor may they have an opportunity to achieve more, to be more, that golden promise that America offers -- and something we should never take for granted.” America provides no easy path for immigration, but “we set the moral precedent by which much of the world follows - and I think we need to do better. We should talk about what it means for these immigrants who have a face, a story and a history in America, for some the only home they have ever known. We should talk about what it means for all subsequent generations of immigrants who come out of the shadows under to promise of protection to then have that brutally revoked -- and what a terrible precedent this decision has set. And finally, we should talk to these immigrants so that we may understand better what this means for them and their psychological well-being.”

The email galvanized response from the committee. We must do something.

Former president of Div. 6 Nancy Dess replied immediately and with great insight. “We all know that APA weighs in heavily on policy, and its sponsorship of the March for Science did not compromise its tax status. We can speak up. Criticizing key policymakers for the policies they make (or don't make or reverse) is not necessarily partisan… I think Div. 6 members and scientists working in the field it represents (whether they are members or not) should be extremely concerned about many of this administration's policies, including those that create barriers to fostering and keeping talent and (re)creating a democratic society in which science is valued and aspiring scientists are not afraid”.

Current Div. 6 President Allyson Bennett observed that “we do not think twice about whether political attacks on animal research, funding, regulation are appropriate topics for us to address. But we've not done as well when it comes to systematic bias, harassment and political attacks that are broad societal problems and that also affect our community and its members.” She proposed that perhaps each issue of the division newsletter could include articles on “broader world issues that impact science, scientists, and society… [these] could range from historical (our discipline and founders include many immigrants to the US, many who fought back during the McCarthy era, etc.) to contemporary (including Charlottesville, DACA, and a full range of discrimination that affects many, including scientists and students). We could also consider how scientific illiteracy and attacks on education undermine society, the environment and science.” As Nancy Dess stated, “In these circumstances, silence is a signal, too, not neutrality.” The consensus sentiment was that a succinct statement should express our concern about this DACA decision.

To that end, I have drafted the following statement:

“At APA's Div. 6, we recognize the valuable contributions DACA students make to APA and to our nation. We see this sentiment being shared across the country and indeed across scentific disciplines. DACA participants are essential to the fabric of our community and the character and quality of our science. DACA recipients are our students, friends and colleagues (about 50 percent of DACA recipients are in school and of these, 71 percent are pursuing a bachelor degree or higher. Moreover, over 90 percent are gainfully employed and contributing members of society)."

Although many details are not yet finalized, we urge the Congress to make decisions that recognize and respect the positive affect and meaningful contributions that DACA recipients have across our nation. We hope these recipients will be allowed to continue pursuing their dreams. We also urge that Congress undertake the difficult process of immigration reform in a manner that recognizes that we are a nation of immigrants.

During this period of uncertainty, the members of Div. 6 of will support to the best of our ability DACA recipients, their families and our friends and colleagues who have been affected by the recent changes. We will be guided by the values of equity, diversity and inclusion. We remain committed to serving the best interests of all of the members of APA, our discipline, community and country.”

We recognize that Div. 6 is a democratically run organization and we are using our Listserve and newsletter to present this account and our response. Often those in leadership positions need to take action without necessarily knowing the consensus of the constituents, but it is important that transparency be preserved. In the spirit of transparency, we offer this account. Votes can change leadership, policy and programs.

We sometimes forget how important a privilege that is.