Kerwin signs letters committing to protect undocumented students
AU will work to ensure the safety of students in the wake of the presidential election
President Kerwin has signed onto three statements circulating among university leaders across the country, committing to protecting undocumented students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and urging President-elect Trump to take a more forceful stance against hate, harassment and violence.
There are national efforts in cities, at universities and at other institutions to establish safe or sanctuary spaces for undocumented individuals who are vulnerable under the Trump administration. AU has not yet been declared a “sanctuary campus.”
One of the statements signed by Kerwin originated at Pomona College on Nov. 21 was addressed to U.S. government leadership and called for universities to protect and support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and undocumented students.
“To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case,” the letter reads. “This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity.”
DACA, a policy established under the Obama administration, provides undocumented individuals who immigrated to the United States as minors the ability to defer action for two years and eligibility to receive work authorization. There are concerns that the Trump administration might terminate this program.
“The national climate leading up to the election and immediately following it created fear and uncertainty for international students and undocumented students who voluntarily came forward under the DACA program,” Vice President for Communication Terry Flannery, who spoke on behalf of the University’s president and leadership, said. “Our students in the DACA program deserve our support and reassurance.”
Administrators are looking into what support and services would be needed for students if the Trump administration terminated the DACA program, Flannery said.
“University leaders are evaluating the benefits and implications of declaring AU a sanctuary campus,” Flannery said. “We would need to determine what additional supports would be required to assist undocumented students, and we also need to evaluate the risks associated with such an action, especially related to the potential impact on millions of dollars in federal funds for research and financial aid that benefit AU faculty and students.”
On Nov. 22, over 300 members of the AU faculty and staff signed a letter to Kerwin calling on the University to designate itself a safe or sanctuary campus for undocumented community members.
“We, the staff and faculty of American University, affirm the student suggestion that the University declare itself a "sanctuary center of higher education,” committed to protecting the members of its international, undocumented and DACA community facing deportation, investigation, and other forms of intimidation,” the letter said.
The letter was crafted in collaboration with the Washington College of Law on what legal steps can be taken to implement a sanctuary campus policy, said Jeffrey Middents, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the staff letter to Kerwin.
“It is a defensive mode before something happens,” Middents said.
The AU faculty and staff letter came out shortly after the Pomona letter with Kerwin’s signature, Middents said.
“We were happy to find out that the administration was already actively looking for real methods to try help undocumented and international students,” Middents said.
Yamillet Payano is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who has drafted a letter for members of the AU community to start planning in the event the DACA program is discontinued.
“The professors are here for us and that is what the [faculty and staff] letter shows. It is up to students to now follow- up and see how we can make it a reality or make it a responsibility of our own,” Payano said. “Even if the University is one day pressured to take away their sanctuary status, within the AU cohort and within our community we need to learn to protect each other, especially DACA students.”
Payano said that while she appreciated Kerwin signing onto the DACA petition and affirming the act’s importance, she would like the University president to address the AU community on the issue.
“It is important that he not only shows support on a national level but also addresses campus concerns and his students and affirm that even when he leaves, it's not an issue left behind,” Payano said. “Transparency is important.”
Kerwin signed onto another letter which originated from Bennington College and called for President-Elect Trump to take a stronger stance against the rise of violence.
“We urge you to condemn and work to prevent the harassment, hate, and acts of violence that are being perpetrated across our nation, sometimes in your name which is now synonymous with our nation’s highest office,” the statement said.
The last statement signed by Kerwin was issued by the Association of International Educators and published prior to the election called for the next president to be more globally engaged.
“Collectively, we urge the next president to pursue policies and practices that embrace the diversity within and outside our borders and that build on our ability to communicate with allies and foes alike,” the statement said.
Ximena Valera, Director of the Arts Management program at AU and co-author of the faculty and staff letter to Kerwin, expressed gratitude for the many signatories and supporters, though also acknowledged the letter was only a first step.
“We can’t stop at a letter, it's not enough,” she said “This goes beyond a statement of policy but rather a statement of action, and I think that is where the faculty are taking it next. What I have seen in my collegues and across campus is a renewed commitment to action.”