UMass students rally in hopes of creating ‘sanctuary’ campuses

  • Morjane Hmaidi writes on a long piece of paper with other UMass students during a for a protest at the Student Union Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

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    John Stewart-Racicot, a Umass student, writes "We are all human" on the student union wall during a protest at the Student Union Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • UMass students gather for a protest at the Student Union Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Stewart-Racicot, a Umass student, writes on the student union wall during a protest at the Student Union Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jhadzia Murphy, a UMass student, writes “No hate, No fear, Refugees are welcome here,” on the sidewalk in front of the student union during a protest at the Student Union Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Umass students gather for a protest at the Student Union Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Morjane Hmaidi writes on a long piece of paper with other Umass students during a for a protest at the Student Union Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jessica Mazzola, a Umass student, writes on a long piece of paper with other Umass students during a for a protest at the Student Union Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

@HughesMorgan_
Published: 2/17/2017 1:04:33 PM

AMHERST — Students shuffled in and out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Friday during a “student strike” aimed at turning the system’s campuses into safe havens for immigrants.

The student action coincided with a national general strike against President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies. Organizers asked people not to go to work or make purchases, encouraging them instead to participate in peaceful protests and community service.

At UMass, students were encouraged to skip classes and boycott university businesses. Roughly 50 people at any given time gathered in the Student Union lobby, listening to speakers from the UMass Department of Political Science and organizations like the Pioneer Valley Workers Center while crafting signs and banners.

A few skipped classes altogether while others rushed over between lectures to hear from activists and educators trying to push the five-campus UMass system toward formally declaring themselves “sanctuaries.” Doing so would see university officials refuse to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directives regarding undocumented students, staff and faculty.

“We really wanted to plug into the nationwide enthusiasm,” said Anne-Claire Simpson, an event organizer.

Facing multiple legal challenges across the country, Trump has dropped efforts to enact his controversial travel ban as previously written. But he recently announced plans to craft a new executive order in the same vein designed to pass judicial muster.

In the meantime, more than 600 people were arrested by federal immigration agents in a single week earlier this month. Though former President Barack Obama’s administration was known for deporting unauthorized immigrants — as many as 409,849 in 2012, according to the New York Times — Trump’s actions and public comments have activists spooked.

Despite demands from local activists that the university take a tougher stance against Trump, UMass Amherst officials have indicated their willingness to support campus members of all backgrounds. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy released an email in November pledging to protect campus community members regardless of their immigration status.

Students like freshman Mia Antinoro believed showing solidarity with those fearing possible deportation or the prospect of not being able to return to the U.S. was more meaningful than attending class.

“I think being here to support people affected by the (travel) ban is more important than calculus,” said Antinoro. “For everyone who is actually affected [by immigration enforcement], they can’t just ignore it or skip it.”

UMass faculty members were prohibited from participating in the walk-out because of a law preventing public employees in Massachusetts from striking. While professor of public health Aline Gubriem did not cancel her classes, she attended the teach-in in her spare time.

“I see all of this as a public health issue,” Gubriem said. “This can tear families apart and really affect people in terms of their health.”

Simpson said accounts of the arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants in the news left her deeply troubled. Those reports also have fueled the sanctuary campus movement, she said.

Simpson believes the campaign will prove more effective as a grassroots effort rather than one spearheaded by administrators and officials.

“We’re trying not too put too much stock into the institution of UMass and the administration because there is maybe only so much they can do,” she said. “We need to understand what we can do together as a community. I’m feeling really positive about this.”

Morgan Hughes can be contacted at mahughes@umass.edu.




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