Let's create a sanctuary that counts

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 2, 2017

Last November, the Beacon published an article entitled “Emerson declared a sanctuary campus.” We watched as the article was passed around on social media, becoming one of the most shared articles of the semester.

Unfortunately, we were wrong.

The article correctly reports that the faculty assembly passed a motion in support of a declaration like this and that President M. Lee Pelton is committed to finding a way to support and protect undocumented students at this college. But though administration is looking into implementing this, they have not officially declared Emerson as a sanctuary campus. We misled our readers about the current policies in place on this campus. We went back on our unspoken promise to keep our audience informed. And for this, we apologize.

Regardless of our oversight, we feel it’s imperative that the student body understand exactly what a “sanctuary campus” is, especially in light of the recent petition by Emerson UNITE. It’s easy to understand the mission of a supposed sanctuary campus, but it’s harder to grasp what Emerson would do. The term “sanctuary,” as in sanctuary city or campus, doesn’t have a strict legal definition, and proposed policies are littered with jargon and political acronyms—what’s ICE? DACA? DREAM? We’re dealing with dense and muddy ideas here. Let’s take a moment to get on the same page.

A sanctuary campus is a school that commits to protecting and supporting its undocumented students and faculty. This means that Emerson would not willingly release any information about the immigration or citizenship status of any student or faculty. The school would not assist officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in enforcing federal policies. The school would keep immigrants anonymous whenever possible, and would only step out of the way if given a legal warrant.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was an executive action from the Obama administration. It allows unauthorized immigrants who entered the U.S. before they were 16 to study or work for two years with the opportunity to renew their status as an immigrant without the threat of deportation. During his campaign, President Donald Trump made overturning Obama’s executive actions on immigration a primary focus of his campaign. If Trump plans to follow through with this promise, it jeopardizes the livelihood of thousands of students.

DACA is not to be confused with DREAM, another immigration policy. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Migrants (DREAM) act is a pathway for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship. The bill has not been passed federally, but several states have their own versions. It would guarantee a sense of security for undocumented students who have made the U.S. their home. Access to education is a right that should be afforded to everyone no matter their immigration status. The DREAM act would not only be beneficial to undocumented immigrants, but also to citizens who are students as their voices add a varied perspective to campus communities.

The petition, signed by more than 450 students, alumni, and parents, lists 11 requests that, in summary, demand the college take concrete and urgent steps to ensure the safety of immigrants in the Emerson community.

Beyond refusing to cooperate with immigration officials, the petition asks that the college make the school a DREAM school; maintain DACA and provide financial support for immigrant students; prohibit housing discrimination based on immigration status; support students affected by verbal and systematic prejudice; create a campus-wide culture of inclusion; allow employees to participate in protests for undocumented workers; and engage the community about policy to support immigrants at the college.

Undocumented students have as much right to education as anyone else at Emerson. As a school that touts and encourages diversity, it is important to have these voices in the classroom, especially in this uncertain political climate. Making this statement is more than just semantics. It’s a way for Emerson to resist and take a stand against hatred and xenophobia.