Faust Outlines Plans to Protect Undocumented Students

University President Drew G. Faust pledged to take steps to protect undocumented students in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, writing an email to Harvard affiliates Monday to “reaffirm our clear and unequivocal support for these individuals.”

In the email, Faust wrote the University will expand the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at the Law School and bring immigration experts to campus to provide legal resources for undocumented students. Faust’s chief of staff Lars Madsen will also coordinate efforts across the University to advise undocumented students.

Harvard University President Drew G. Faust
University President Drew G. Faust.

The email also reiterated a message from Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. Riley last week stating that the department will not ask about the immigration status of Harvard affiliates or enforce federal immigration laws. Faust referenced existing University policies preventing Harvard from disclosing immigration statuses or allowing law enforcement officials seeking to deport affiliates to enter campus without a warrant.

“[T]here has been growing concern about the effect more aggressive enforcement of federal immigration laws could have on many students, scholars, and staff at Harvard, especially on students who are undocumented,” Faust wrote.

President-elect Trump pledged during his campaign to deport undocumented immigrants and overturn the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Barack Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 to provide temporary legal protection to qualifying undocumented young adults. About 40 undocumented students currently attend Harvard.

After Trump’s victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election, students circulated a petition calling on the University to appoint an administrator to support undocumented students, create an office for such students, and hire a mental health counselor with experience working with people facing deportation.

The petition had amassed more than 4,000 signatures as of Nov. 14, when hundreds of students gathered at a rally and presented the petition to administrators. A group of undocumented students also met privately with Faust to discuss their concerns and present proposals for administrative action, according to Paulo J. Pinto ’18, who is undocumented.

“[W]e recognize and share the deep anxiety that campaign rhetoric and proposals have created for many members of the Harvard community,” Faust wrote in her email.

Faust’s email also reaffirmed her “active support” of DACA and the DREAM Act, legislation that, if passed, would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young adults. Faust joined other university presidents last week in signing a letter to political leaders defending DACA.

Faust’s email does not specifically name Harvard a “sanctuary campus.” In recent weeks, students at universities across the country have pushed for their schools to adopt this designation—a largely symbolic term without a clear definition. Administrators at Wesleyan University formally declared the school a sanctuary campus, specifying that the university will not discriminate against undocumented students or aid federal officials with deportations—policies Harvard currently follows.

“By the terms that President Faust has outlined in the email, I think it’s pretty much a sanctuary campus by the terms other universities have outlined,” Pinto said. “There’s no clear definition, but it’s just that the place [is] saying it supports undocumented students and will do everything it legally can to protect them, and I think Harvard is doing that.”

Pinto said he understands critics’ concerns that designating campuses as “sanctuary” would draw attention to undocumented students, making them targets of immigration authorities.

But undocumented student Daishi Tanaka ’19 said he thinks Harvard should send a message with a specific designation as a sanctuary campus, and was disappointed that Faust’s email did not do so.

While several undocumented students praised the University for taking concrete action to support undocumented students, they felt the measures she outlined are not sufficient.

Pinto reiterated student activists’ requests for an administrative office for undocumented students, and Ilian A. Meza-Pena ’17 said she was disappointed Faust has not yet hired a designated mental health professional.

“From a holistic point of view, I think that the letter represents a lot of progress and I’m really happy for that progress, but at the same time there is more work to be done,” Tanaka said.

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