UNITE petitions for sanctuary campus

by Shafaq Patel / Beacon Correspondent • February 2, 2017

An Emerson organization created a petition requesting President M. Lee Pelton and the the college to declare Emerson as a sanctuary campus

Emerson Understanding National Immigration Through Education (UNITE) wants the campus to begin taking action to protect and support undocumented students and staff, which includes declaring the college a Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) school.

Emerson has not officially declared itself a sanctuary school, according to Carole McFall, associate vice president of communications, although the Beacon incorrectly reported in November that it had. While the faculty assembly meeting last fall voted to make Emerson a sanctuary campus, the recent petition asks Pelton to begin to implement policy changes.

McFall said Pelton has a group of administrators looking at what that would entail.

According to the petition, making Emerson a sanctuary campus and a DREAM school would mean that the college would refuse to release status information of undocumented student and staff. In addition, the college would financially support undocumented students through scholarships.

Pelton said he supports the undocumented students on campus. But he said the college has to consider potential liabilities, like the loss of federal funding, that Emerson might incur by declaring itself a sanctuary school. Pelton also mentioned he did not receive the petition yet; he was only emailed a letter of support from Student Government Association President Emily Solomon.

“My support for these students is unwavering, it is strong, and we will do everything we can do to make sure that they are able to continue their education and to make sure that whatever we do doesn’t unwillingly harm them in some respects,” Pelton said. “But there are a number of important questions I need answers to in order to respond responsibly to the requests to become a sanctuary campus.”

The petition includes 11 points about protecting undocumented immigrants. Chantelle Bacigalupo, vice president of UNITE and senior journalism major, said it asks that the college leave room for discussion and to have an ongoing dialogue.

“After the news from a few days ago [about the ban], it is fair to say that we are going to be surprised by a lot of the immigration decisions he makes,” Bacigalupo said. “So I think it is very important that in addition to all the policies that we’ve stated, we leave room for an open ended conversation and negotiation about how we can further adapt to the immigration policies at hand and how we can protect everyone in the Emerson community.”

A student from UNITE said she is one of the few students attending Emerson under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to have a renewable two-year temporary status so they are deferred from deportation. Due to her status, the Beacon decided to keep her name confidential.

The student said she is afraid because President Donald Trump has said many times that he wants to get rid of DACA, which would directly impact her and many other undocumented people at the college.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in the air,” she said. “And if my DACA gets taken away, I can get deported. The government could ask Emerson for any names, and I am asking for my name to not be in the list.”

The petition has over 400 signatures in support of students and staff like her. Christine Vapsva, freshman political communication major, said she signed it because she thinks they have the right to be here.

“I think it is very important, to even benefit Emerson, to allow undocumented students to be here, to have a new and unique perspective,” Vapsva said. “And also just from a humanitarian standpoint, if a kid has worked as hard as the rest of us to get here, there is no reason why they should have to be afraid to be here.”