In response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Sept. 5 announcement of a gradual “wind-down” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), President of the College Adam Falk reaffirmed the College’s commitment to supporting those affected by the program’s impending cancellation in an email to the College community.
Through addressing concerns among members of the community about the recent news, Falk promised protection and security for undocumented students.
“Anyone admitted to or employed by Williams is a welcome member of this community,” Falk wrote. “We will not tolerate bias or prejudice toward our people on the basis of DACA status or other identity attributes.”
DACA, which President Barack Obama enacted in 2012, allowed some undocumented immigrants who entered the United States when they were younger than 16 to be eligible for a work permit and renewable deferral from deportation every two years. With the cancellation, over 800,000 people’s statuses as residents in the United States remain unclear.
With an unsure future facing students and their families and friends affected by DACA, the College has promised to launch a multi-faceted approach to support community members to the greatest capacity possible.
Associate Dean of the College Rosanna Ferro said that it is essential for institutions of higher learning to accept and fully welcome people from all walks of life, including immigrants.
“It’s part of a goal of an institution of higher education to provide opportunities to those that are admitted [into the College,]” Ferro said. “I believe that people should have the choice and the option and, surrounding this specific topic, I’m passionate about it, because these students had no choice in the matter: They were brought here when they were children,” she said. “This is their life. This is where they grew up. So I think it’s only fair for them to pursue a degree of higher education at a place like Williams.”
Through such a statement of support, the College administration has emphasized that it will uphold its financial obligations to students – since their status prevents them from gaining financial aid from the federal government – and will protect community members in legal situations to its greatest ability. Falk stated that College staff will not aid in the enforcement of immigration law in any way and that, should government agencies or officers appear on campus, the College “will not provide student or employee information to government agencies or their officers unless presented with a legitimate court order” as required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The College also prohibits government officers from conducting warrantless questioning, searches or detention on campus.
Furthermore, the circle of support spans not only within the College, but Williamstown as well: Collaborations between faculty, students and the Williamstown Police Department during the past year gave rise to two new forms of legislation protecting the rights of immigrants from unlawful seizures. On Sept. 6 approximately 40 people appeared at a “Stand Up for DACA” rally at the intersection of Routes 2 and 7.
The College’s support for the undocumented students has shown itself in other forms, ranging from special consultation from the chaplain’s office, legal experts in upcoming workshops, Counseling Services and the Speak Up! online reporting feature, which receives tips on cases of bias or prejudice happening on campus.
Student organizations have also stepped up to act as mediators between the administration and students so that the administration can better understand undocumented students’ needs.
Last year, the Coalition for Immigrant Student Advancement (CISA) found the need for a student group to advocate for documented and undocumented immigrants’ rights. “Since the election, CISA switched from kind of a progressive mode to a defensive mode working with the [college] administration,” Marcone Correia ’19, co-chair of CISA, said. “I think we’re in damage control. … When these announcements come out, not everyone is prepared or anticipating it in the way some of the rest of us are, and they’ll be thrown aback by it. And there are all of these new legal implications that didn’t have to be considered before. … All these things have to be organized so that the damage can be minimized.”
Correia has proposed more discussion between students, faculty, student organizations and the administration regarding the next steps the College needs to take to best combat legal, economic and emotional issues that some students and families now face.
He also said that, if the College is to assure affected students that they can have a healthy college experience, as a general rule the administration shouldn’t assume that all affected students want to be involved in group conversations concerning DACA. Rather, should students seek support, the College must have resources quickly and readily available.
Looking forward, Ferro and Correia both said that they hope students will get to have healthy college experiences despite the ending of DACA and the increased discrimination against immigrants.
Ferro also added that she hopes that proponents of the White House’s decision will look past biases and rather look at the lives of the 800,000 people who are affected by the announcement.
“I think it’s easy to take a stance when you don’t know the people,” Ferro said in a comment directed at anti-immigrant supporters. “You haven’t seen all the great contributions they’ve given this country. … And all it takes is a minute of interacting with any of our students, and they would understand why this program is so important and why it should be revamped to be even more supportive, not less.”
“These are some amazing people and they’re doing amazing things. It’s just hard to envision someone meeting any of our students and not realizing that right away.”