In the wake of the President’s Executive Order on immigration, which essentially banned all immigrants coming into the United States from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen), many college and university presidents have released statements proclaiming their commitment to international students.
These students were reassured that they would be supported and protected by their institution and continue to be valued as part of the campus community. These statements have been lauded and highlighted by many as proof that institutions are dedicated to fighting nativist sentiments which are becoming much more visible (and some would believe acceptable) since the election of a new president this past November.
After reading some of the statements released since the Jan. 27 implementation of the Executive Order which was then blocked by a federal judge, I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised to see that, while proclaiming to protect immigrant and international students on campus, some institutions have included undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students in their statements.
Colorado State University’s president, Dr. Tony Frank, recognized that students from banned countries are not the only ones affected by immigration policies, and shared “we are also actively engaged with our national organizations such as APLU (Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities), providing them the data needed to help make the broader case in support of all of our international, DACA, and ASSET students.”
Dr. John M. Dunn, president of Western Michigan University, also included DACA students in their message and described his willingness to protect this student group by stating, “It is my intent as president to do all in my power to protect and advocate for our international students. That includes those who are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA—policy.”
This recognition of undocumented and DACA students is especially important in states that have policies in place that further marginalize and oppress this student population by denying access to enroll in state universities or pay in-state tuition.
These statements, with messages of building and protecting an inclusive community, are great to see, but the reality is not all campuses have included undocumented and DACA students in their statements. This reality is disturbing, to say the least, especially as we reflect on the fact that more undocumented immigrants, including students, were deported under President Obama than during any other administration. More than 2.5 million people were deported throughout Obama’s administration, and during all of that time, there was no major push or declarations of protection for these students who have been vulnerable targets of the U.S. government for years.
Ever since the election of the new president, student activist groups across that country have struggled with gathering petition signatures, meeting with administrators, and proposing potential policies in order to establish their institution as a sanctuary campus, many to no avail.
These inconsistencies, beg the questions: What students are worth protecting, and what students are considered dispensable to institutions? If an institutional response is warranted when there is a federal government ban of some people, why is a response not released when local communities are being targeted?
In the last couple of weeks, immigration officials working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have targeted homes and communities in Georgia, New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and arrested hundreds as part of raids which they have termed “targeted enforcement actions.” To my knowledge, there has not been widespread response addressing these attacks that may negatively affect undocumented and DACA students on campus.
If institutions of higher education claim to serve all students and strive to be an inclusive community that teaches students to be global citizens, why are some students protected while others are deemed invisible?
Institutions of higher learning are expected to support their underrepresented student populations, including immigrant students, but when students who are paying a premium rate for tuition are offered protection while immigrant students who have lived their entire life in this country and pay in-state tuition are ignored, it is glaring that interest convergence is at play.
The theory of interest convergence explains why institutions, governed mostly by White males, will support only the equity efforts that will offer them benefits in return; in this case, it is increased tuition income. These undocumented and DACA students are no less part of the campus community and deserve to feel protected and supported by their institution’s administration.
If a college or university president is willing to make a statement responding to an Executive Order immigration ban, then they should also be expected to actively vocalize their commitment to the safety and defense of undocumented and DACA students at a time of increased ICE raids and deportations.
The statements in response to the Executive Order are presented as an example of the institution’s commitment to diversity and equity work, but oftentimes these statements are merely a surface-level action. Scholar Sara Ahmed is critical of these proclamations of diversity and social justice, stating that “the university only has commitment to the extent those within it are committed.” This commitment goes beyond putting out a single statement, which relegates some of their most vulnerable students invisible.
Berenice Sánchez is a doctoral student at Indiana University Bloomington.