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Immigration Law Experts Advise Undocumented Students

More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard.
More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard.
By Derek G. Xiao, Crimson Staff Writer

Staffers from Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic clarified definitions of “sanctuary” spaces in an online seminar Wednesday, offering Harvard’s undocumented students individual legal consultation as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.

Philip L. Torrey, a Law School lecturer who led the seminar, said the label “sanctuary” could mean a number of things in practice, ranging from the physical prevention of immigration enforcement officials from entering a space to the guarantee that those officials have valid warrants before entering.

“The term ‘sanctuary’ has no specific legal definition,” Torrey said.

Students gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students in Nov.
Students gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students in Nov. By Thomas W. Franck

In December, University President Drew G. Faust said she would not adopt the “sanctuary” term for Harvard’s campus, adding that she thought creating a “sanctuary campus” would further endanger undocumented students. Two weeks later, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church Jonathan L. Walton designated the Church a “sanctuary” space.

Torrey and fellow Law School lecturer Sabrineh Ardalan also briefed attendees on how to navigate immigration issues as Trump transitions to the White House. The political outsider drew ire throughout his presidential campaign, which many say stirred anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country.

Ardalan and Torrey began the event by outlining Trump’s 100-day plan on immigration issues, which includes passing an act to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and beginning to remove immigrants with criminal convictions or prior orders of removal. Trump has also pledge to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

President Barack Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 to provide temporary legal protections, like a driver’s license and Social Security number, to qualifying undocumented young adults. Administrators estimate that about 40 undocumented students—many of them DACA beneficiaries—currently attend Harvard.

Despite Trump’s strong rhetoric on the campaign trail, however, Torrey said that “it’s still sort of a guessing game at this point as to what [Trump’s] priorities are…We won’t know for sure until the President-elect takes office.”

Ardalan advised that it was important for students and their families to understand their rights and the potential avenues of immigration protection available to them, regardless of federal immigration policies to come.

“No matter who is president, [undocumented immigrants] are afforded certain rights by the Constitution,” she said, adding that undocumented immigrants are also guaranteed Miranda rights: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Ardalan also advised undocumented students against opening their doors for immigration officials unless presented with a signed warrant from a judge, which she said could be slid under the door.

“We are recommending that everybody do a consultation with a lawyer, and for students who are undocumented or DACA who are at Harvard, we are recommending they set up an individual consultation with us at the beginning of next semester,” Ardalan said.

Sponsored by the College’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the presentation was organized as part of a University-wide effort to support Harvard’s undocumented students following Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in November.

In the election’s aftermath, hundreds rallied in Harvard Yard, calling on administrators to take concrete action to protect Harvard’s undocumented students. A petition with their demands garnered more than 4,000 signatures, and received endorsements from hundreds of faculty members.

In response, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana reiterated that he will prioritize protecting undocumented students at the College, and Faust said she will increase lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. under the Trump administration.

In a Nov. 28 email to Harvard affiliates, Faust said the University further intended to 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.

Loc Truong, the Office of Student Life’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs, echoed the University’s commitment to undocumented students in his concluding remarks for the seminar.

“We’ve always supported undocumented students. It’s our responsibility that students have the resources they need to be successful at Harvard and beyond,” Truong said. “Just with the presidential election, we’ve been more intentional with our support.”

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