Undocumented students look to Syracuse University to fight Trump’s promised immigration agenda
Fiona Lenz | Contributing Photographer
UPDATED: Jan. 5, 2017 at 1:05 p.m.
On election night Berenice Rodriguez was keeping up with the results on her laptop. As more numbers came in, the more uneasy she became. Knowing the results wouldn’t be in for hours, she went to sleep thinking in the morning everything would be fine.
For her, though, it wasn’t. She woke up at 6 a.m. to use the restroom, and when she got back in her bed she opened her laptop, still on the page from the night before, and there she saw it.
She clicked refresh once, twice and over and over again. The results, to her dismay, never changed.
“I just started crying,” she said. “I got up, I punched a wall, I fell to the floor, I walked around the living room, I went back to my room.”
She kept in that cycle all day, only being interrupted by the one class she had.
As an undocumented student at Syracuse University, Rodriguez always faced uncertainty about what would happen to her and her family. Now her fears are heightened by the upcoming presidency of Donald Trump.
Since President-elect Trump’s win, the term “sanctuary campus” has been popping up across colleges in the United States. Students, faculty and staff nationwide have called on administrations to officially declare their schools a sanctuary for undocumented students as a precautionary measure against Trump’s intended immigration policies.
Trump’s election platform once called for deporting all of the undocumented people residing in the country, about 11 million. But the policy has since changed to deporting about 3 million undocumented people, focusing on those who have committed crimes.
He also promised to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA, immigration reform established by the Obama administration, allows those who were brought into the country without documentation as kids to be protected from deportation for a period of time if they meet certain criteria, including being enrolled in school.
Syracuse University, along with dozens of other colleges in the U.S., has been called on to become a sanctuary for its undocumented students.
The term, inspired by “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states” that protect from violating federal immigration laws, holds different meanings based on the campus.
An online petition was created shortly after the presidential election urged for the SU and State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry campuses to take steps to protect their students. The petition provides details about what actions petitioners think the colleges should take as a sanctuary campus.
Among the actions are: refusing to comply with immigration authorities in regard to deportations and raids, guaranteed privacy of immigration status and assigning an administration office for DACA students. The petition has been signed by hundreds of SU and SUNY-ESF students, faculty and staff.
Echoing the sentiments of the petition, SU and SUNY-ESF took part in the national walk out held on Nov. 16. The walk out, which had about 1,000 participants, was the largest post-election demonstration held on the campus so far.
“Our goal right now is for the chancellor to step up and sign the paper that says undocumented students here are safe,” said Amy Quichiz, a senior women’s and gender studies major and one of the organizers of the protest.
On Nov. 17, the day immediately after the protest, SU Chancellor Kent Syverud added his signature to a statement in support of DACA, which has been signed by more than 450 university leaders. Since the results of the presidential election were announced, however, the SU community has been waiting for a statement regarding the proposal of a sanctuary campus.
Eric Evangelista, Student Association president who works closely with administrators, said he does not know the university’s stance as a whole, but he is aware that people are discussing the topic.
Quichiz said there should be a clear way for the institution to let the campus know that administrators are there to listen to the students and their needs. She added that if SU spoke up and reacted to the issue, it could set an example for other institutions.
About five years ago, under former Chancellor Nancy Cantor, SU served as a sanctuary for undocumented students, said Audie Klotz, a professor of political science. The university accepted a cohort of students who were getting kicked out of the Georgia public university system for being undocumented, Klotz said.
“The understanding was that it was an informal arrangement between presidents and chancellors of universities,” Klotz said.
A Ph.D. student, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing status of his immigration case, was once caught in the same situation as the Georgia students.
A few weeks before the end of his first semester at Fordham University, the student said he received an email from his dean asking to meet in his office. The dean informed him of an investigation going on at the school and warned him that it likely wouldn’t work out in his favor. At the time, he was in the process of getting his legal status adjusted.
A week later, he was called in again, and this time the dean was accompanied by a legal adviser who told him that after he finished his last exam he would have to pack up and leave the school.
What the student said struck him most during the process wasn’t that he was getting kicked out; it was the echoing of the words from the legal department. They told him they had never dealt with an undocumented student before.
Once home in Seattle, the student was devastated.
“I remember not stepping outside of the house for a good three months until I heard there was good news about the adjustment of status,” he said.
The student finished his undergraduate career at the University of Washington, Seattle since the college resided in a sanctuary state. All they needed was proof of his residency in Washington and of completion of his primary education.
The student said he hopes SU does become a sanctuary campus, especially because as a private institution, he said, the university has more liberty with how the school is operated.
So far at SU, some organizations have declared their support for the university becoming a sanctuary campus, while others have stayed silent.
SU’s Graduate Student Organization on Wednesday made a resolution in support of sanctuary campus, calling for the university to uphold its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The Student Association has not yet declared their stance on the issue.
“We don’t usually take a stance on things the university can’t control,” SA President Eric Evangelista said.
He added that SA doesn’t frequently issue resolutions. While some assembly representatives have expressed interest in declaring the school a sanctuary campus, it is up to the board of administration to draft a resolution to present to the assembly and discuss, Evangelista said.
“I don’t think people are aware of the potential ramifications for something like this,” Evangelista said. “It’s been generalized and simplified because it is a very emotional issue.”
Currently the university receives federal funding for special projects such as the National Veterans Resource Complex and for the overall maintenance of the university. Evangelista said he fears that if the university blatantly goes against the Trump administration by becoming a sanctuary campus, important funding may be cut from the university.
“We need to be looking at all of the legal and political ramifications,” Evangelista said. “We need to look at them for the interest of the entire student body so we can preserve everything we have worked for.”
CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this article, the status and details regarding the immigration case of an SU student were unclear. The article has since been updated for clarity.
Published on December 4, 2016 at 11:25 pm