Editorial: Sanctuary campuses just one step in protecting undocumented Dreamers

  • Amherst College students participate in a protest Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, against the immigration policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/28/2016 12:47:03 AM

In the weeks since Election Day, a movement to protect immigrants in sanctuary communities has expanded from municipalities to college campuses. On Nov. 16, nearly 2,000 students at Amherst, Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts Amherst walked out of classes, joining about 100 other schools nationwide as part of the #SanctuaryCampus movement.

The movement seeks pledges from college administrators to protect undocumented immigrants on their campuses from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, refusing to voluntarily share records with the federal agency along with other campus-specific policies geared toward protecting undocumented community members. Northampton and Amherst already are sanctuary cities, with Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz pledging that local police would not honor ICE requests to detain those believed to be undocumented without a warrant.

While a worthy goal and a step these campuses should take, we doubt that alone will protect those at risk of deportation under a Donald Trump presidency. At least one college administrator — Brown University Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt — agrees. “Based on consultation with legal counsel, we understand that private universities and colleges do not have legal protection from entry by members of law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Cliatt wrote.

The concern is that Trump will roll back the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action enacted by President Barack Obama, under which many now college-aged immigrants who came into the country illegally as children received legal status to live and work. They are known as Dreamers. More than 700,000 people are enrolled under this program, and many, like Amherst College student Bryan Torres, are striving to create lives as hard-working Americans.

Torres came to the United States from El Salvador 10 years ago at the age of 12. He left behind his grandmother and everyone he knew because his mother wanted his life to be free of gang violence. A frightened middle-schooler who knew no English, Torres learned the language and eventually worked his way through Holyoke Community College, compiling an impressive body of academic work. DACA made his life easier, allowing him to apply for financial aid and to receive legal status to work.

In 2015, he was accepted by Amherst. When the Gazette profiled Torres at the time, Leah C. Schmalzbauer, an associate professor of American Studies and sociology, called him a leader in her class titled Gender, Power and Migration: Latinos in the Americas. “He’s an inspiration in so many ways,” she said describing his focus, drive and intelligence in overcoming barriers to achieve his goals.

Torres spoke at the rally on Nov. 16, saying that he was harassed by an Amherst alum during homecoming weekend on campus. “Go back to your country; you’re a Mexican,” the person said. “Get out of my country, Beaner.”

If Trump makes good on a campaign promise to eliminate Obama’s executive actions regarding undocumented immigrants, Torres and other Dreamers now protected by DACA risk deportation at any time — a waste of promising American lives and a cruel fate for those sent back to dangerous regions they hardly know.

The same day as the student walkout, Breitbart.com — an alternative news source that espouses white supremacist ideas and is headed by Stephen Bannon, who Trump has appointed as his senior adviser — compared a sanctuary campus to an “illegal alien refugee camp.” Trump has promised to deport between two million and three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records and, further, then “make a determination” about non-criminal violators of immigration law.

That is in contrast to the policies of the Obama administration, under which ICE issued a 2011 memo stating that schools and churches, designated as “sensitive locations,” should not be places for arrests, interviews, searches or surveillance. Whether such designations will stand during the Trump administration remains to be seen.

Last week, the presidents of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges signed a letter urging that DACA and other protections enacted by Obama to protect undocumented immigrants remain in place.

America should have a place for Dreamers and other undocumented workers who have built their lives in this country. The question all of us should be asking, from mayors and university presidents on down, is how far we are willing to go to protect members of our communities from policies we deem cruel and immoral. How we answer that may come to define us as a generation.

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