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Op-Eds

Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard

As the preeminent institution of its kind, Harvard University has remained committed to diversity—as stated in its mission—and to its aim “to remove restraints on students’ full participation” in the Harvard community. The result of last week’s presidential election announcement makes this mission more pressing than ever, especially for the undocumented student community which has been particularly under threat throughout this election cycle.

Harvard’s mission demands that the administration move beyond releasing a statement and implement concrete actions that protect all Harvard students—especially those members of our community who have been targets of discrimination during a hate-filled and anxiety-inducing election.

Thus, we ask: what does the election of Donald J. Trump mean to the undocumented students currently enrolled at Harvard? Trump’s first change to immigration policy will in all likelihood affect these students, many—if not all—of whom currently benefit from President Obama’s executive order: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This order currently safeguards students from deportation, grants them work authorization, and enables them to obtain driver's licenses. Hence, DACA has opened doors for employment, greater participation in America’s democracy, and a unique sense of belonging. Not only is Trump an imminent threat to DACA, but he has also threatened to block and overturn other progressive immigration policies. President-elect Donald J. Trump now possesses the power to materialize his words with the support of our Congress, making the repeal of vital immigration policies not only possible, but frighteningly plausible.

For many years, Harvard has admitted undocumented students: students who were brought to the U.S. as children and who have been designated as unlawful. In addition to experiencing obstacles by virtue of their intersectional identities, undocumented students face additional challenges given their legal status. Not only are undocumented students ineligible to work, but they are also ineligible for federal aid, most private assistance, and work-study programs. Undocumented students are forced to navigate a complex legal framework on their own. Thus, Harvard’s lack of a centralized support system further complicates the experiences of undocumented students, ultimately dropping the University’s responsibility to support students onto Harvard College Act on a Dream, a student-run organization.

In admitting students from at-risk and marginalized communities, Harvard has the obligation to provide these members of our community with an equitable and just education which requires the creation of spaces and the allocation of resources that would support them and allow them to excel at Harvard University and beyond. Harvard prides itself on its diversity and inclusion. Let’s then support our diverse population in this hour of increased fear and need.

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We do not write in search of symbolic support. Harvard has a duty, now more than ever, to support the undocumented students at the College and in graduate programs through institutional support that has woefully been missing for years.

Given that the current Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion announced her departure at the beginning of the semester, the University must immediately hire a new administrator and equip them with the necessary funding and infrastructure (i.e., full time staff) to implement necessary changes to ensure the safety, mental health, and intellectual development of all students regardless of identity, race, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, and immigration status.

Even with the position filled, the umbrella of issues that fall under this Dean’s purview is so large that undocumented students are left without support. To prevent this, the University must immediately hire a full-time Assistant Dean under the Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to specifically support the undocumented/DACA-mented undergraduates and graduate students.

Resources for undocumented students are currently decentralized and often difficult to find. To fix this, the University must institute an Office for Undocumented Student Support to serve as a resource center for undocumented students and students of mixed-legal status families, actively defending students from the aforementioned threats given the imminent, divisive political climate. It must also expand existing funds and establish a distinct budget for undocumented students and students in mixed-status families to cover fees associated with immigration-related legal proceedings.

In addition, Harvard must hire at least one mental health professional who has cultural competency in working with politically marginalized communities, trauma-related issues of familial separation, and the chronic threat of deportation. The University should also proclaim Harvard Memorial Church as part of the network of sanctuary churches that provide a refuge for students facing deportation proceedings.

The danger undocumented students face now is due to gaps in education pertaining to how this nation was founded. It is paramount that the University significantly increase the percentage of tenured faculty of color, specifically those teaching courses related to Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Courses added should engage with the undocumented experience in a way that does not place the burden of instruction on undocumented students.

We do not need your words of comfort, your pity, or your sympathy. We need action that demonstrates this University’s dedication to supporting all of its students, regardless of their immigration status. Undocumented students live among us, contribute to our community, and participate in intellectual life at Harvard and beyond. Harvard is responsible for their safety and intellectual freedom, which cannot be guaranteed without ensuring their safety from threats of violence, family separation and deportation. We need action now.


Lorena Avilés Trujillo '17 is a sociology concentrator living in Adams House. Ilian A. Meza-Peña '17 is a History and Literature concentrator living in Adams House. Enrique Ramírez '17 is a philosophy concentrator living in Quincy House. They write representing the views of the group Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard. This op-ed was based on a petition to support undocumented students, which now has more than 4,000 signatures, including from the chairs of the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, the Department of Romance, Languages and Literatures, and the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights.

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