In early March, a letter drafted by a number of Trinity employees was spread throughout the ranks of students, faculty and staff. Dated February 28, 2017, the document was titled â€œPetition to make Trinity University a sanctuary for undocumented community membersâ€ and addressed to Danny Anderson, president of the university.
â€œWe faculty, staff, students, student organizations and alumni are requesting that the Trinity administration urgently and immediately begin the process of making our campus a sanctuary for the undocumented immigrants who are a part of both our campus and broader community,â€ began the document. â€œUndocumented members of the Trinity community with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) may be particularly at risk, given the information they provided to the government.â€
A prescient observation, considering Trumpâ€™s recent announcement that DACA will be repealed, meaning its 800,000 beneficiaries could be targeted for detainment and deportation beginning in April 2018. (Check out news editor Kathleen Creedonâ€™s reporting on the policy changeÂ in this weekâ€™s Trinitonian.)
The petition,http://www.trinitonian.com/?p=10756&preview=true which garnered 274 signatures, asked Anderson to engage the authors in a conversation about putting Trinity resources to their fullest potential in the service of non-citizen Americans, with due consideration to the legal constraints faced by the university.
The document suggested a number of potential actions: In cooperation with the non-profit RAICES, Trinity could outfit the chapel as a place of refuge for those in need; the admissions office could put forth an effort to recruit more undocumented students and DACA recipients; the university could establish a legal defense fund for students, staff, faculty, administrators, contract workers â€” e.g. dining services and janitorial employees â€” and others in case of detention or other need of legal assistance.
As far as we can tell, university officials never publicly engaged with the authors of the petition, nor did they pursue any of its suggestions. In a March email, Anderson offered sympathy to the petitionâ€™s signatories, noting his own public support for legislation and policies servicing immigrants and international students. But he warned that declaring Trinity a â€˜sanctuaryâ€™ may mislead vulnerable populations into believing the university could protect them from government agents.
â€œTrinity does not have the authority to refuse to comply with lawful government action â€” this includes refusing to comply with lawful action on the part of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement,â€ Anderson wrote.
Five months and one DACA repeal later, we find ourselves still wondering: What are the limits of the universityâ€™s protection? How many faculty, staff and students are jeopardized by Trumpâ€™s decision? Whatâ€™s our game plan in case Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) comes to the residence halls, and what role will TUPD play in those proceedings? Did DACA influence student admissions? Several Trinitonian journalists reached out to university officials to find out the answers to these questions.
The administration wouldnâ€™t give us a count of how many enrolled students are DACA recipients; we asked Eric Maloof, vice president for enrollment engagement, and Sheryl Tynes, vice president for student life. Both forwarded us an official statement that described international studentsâ€™ admissions process. Apparently, students who arenâ€™t U.S. citizens or permanent residents â€” a group that seems to include DACA recipients â€” are counted as international students. Paul Chapa, chief of police, only offered the brief statement that TUPD wonâ€™t be â€œimpactedâ€ by Trumpâ€™s decision. Good for them! But what about staff and students?
The most concrete information we have is that the university stands by its values of diversity and inclusion. In an email sent to campus last Thursday, Anderson said he supports legislation and policies that protect undocumented Americans.
Itâ€™s hard to pass judgment on the universityâ€™s response. Weâ€™re of two minds about it. Journalists typically demand transparency from those in positions of power. But the value of opacity shouldnâ€™t be discounted, either.
After all, non-citizen Americans were promised protection from deportation so long as they provided the federal government personal information about themselves and family members: home addresses, fingerprints, photographs and more. Then Trump took over the presidency. The Guardian reports that itâ€™s possible for ICE to get hold of the data, though rules currently prevent it â€” rules that might change under the Trump administration. ICEâ€™s possession of this information might end up endangering the livelihoods of about 800,000 young adults.
It makes sense that the university would shield these numbers. If it were publicized that Trinity has a large population of undocumented students, weâ€™d become a target for ICE investigations and those students and their families would be endangered.
At the same time, we need to know the details. Should we be on guard? Can vulnerable students count on protection from TUPD or any other university official? Will we revisit the petitionâ€™s suggestions, which seem more urgent?
And why wonâ€™t they just say what Anderson seems to have already admitted way back in March? When push comes to shove, the university canâ€™t stand in ICEâ€™s way.
Journalistic frustrations aside, the political student organizations have the right idea. Call your senators and put pressure on D.C. to legislate a solution.