Faculty sign letter calling for College to expand action on DACA

by The Dartmouth Senior Staff | 2/20/18 9:48am

Over 65 faculty members have signed a letter in support of Unai Montes-Irueste ’98, who publicly resigned from his positions on multiple alumni associations over his dissatisfaction with the College’s protections of undocumented students. The letter, dated Feb. 13, reiterates Montes-Irueste’s frustrations and urges the College to support students affected by President Donald Trump’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September 2017.

Montes-Irueste resigned from his positions on Jan. 30 and published an open letter on Facebook announcing his withdrawal of support from the College. In his letter, he recounted his and others’ multiple requests for action to protect undocumented students and what he considered inadequate responses from the College.

Dartmouth has received multiple letters expressing concern over protections for undocumented students. On Nov. 16, 2016, the Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers petitioned the College to declare Dartmouth a sanctuary campus. On Nov. 18, 2016, several alumni organizations wrote a letter calling on the College to protect vulnerable students. On Sept. 5, 2017, the day DACA was rescinded, CoFIRED again wrote to the College with a list of demands, including a declaration that the College will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and will provide full financial aid for undocumented students.

The Feb. 13 faculty letter referenced these requests and urged the College to take action to support and communicate with affected students. The letter was addressed to nine administrators, including College President Phil Hanlon, interim provost David Kotz ’86, executive vice president Rick Mills, dean of the faculty Elizabeth Smith and Dean of the College Rebecca Biron.

“We appeal to you to join the many dedicated students and alumni courageously confronting a critical civil rights imperative of our time,” the letter stated.

History professor Pamela Voekel, who co-drafted the letter, said Montes-Irueste’s resignation was a “wake-up call,” particularly because he had been very involved with the College even after graduation. She added that she wants the administration to be more transparent about its actions to support DREAM Act-eligible students.

“We felt strongly that we wanted to put a thumb on the scale,” she said. “Let’s actually take this seriously and take a series of steps to meet those demands, and if some of those demands can’t be met, let’s be as transparent about that as possible.”

Art history professor Mary Coffey, who signed the letter, said the College should uphold its commitments to undocumented students.

“We need to do a whole lot more than affirm our community values, talk about the power of diversity for students or even write amicus briefs for the Supreme Court to support DACA and legislation,” Coffey said. “We need to go beyond that. Our students are in need, and we’ve made a commitment to them.”

The nine administrators addressed in the faculty letter responded on Feb. 18. The response detailed “concrete steps” the College has taken to protect undocumented students, including providing “financial assistance for DACA-related issues” to those affected, connecting students to legal resources and advocating for undocumented students with Congressional members.

One specific issue brought up in the letters is the designation of Dartmouth as a sanctuary campus. In a Nov. 18, 2016 campus-wide email in response to the CoFIRED petition, Hanlon affirmed his support for undocumented students but stopped short of declaring the College a sanctuary campus. In the administrators’ Feb. 18 response, they stated that the term “has no real meaning under the law … [so it] would afford students no additional protections beyond those that are already in place.” The response went on to state that the College will not disclose information or grant access to non-public campus property to third parties in the absence of a legal authorization.

“Dartmouth is providing the highest level of protection it can legally provide for undocumented students,” the response states.

Another point of concern is the possibility of ICE agents boarding and searching Dartmouth Coach buses. In August 2017, U.S. Border Patrol agents set up a checkpoint on Interstate 93 in Lincoln, New Hampshire and detained 25 undocumented immigrants, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

The administrators’ response states that because the Dartmouth Coach is operated independently from the College, Dartmouth cannot declare it a safe zone, though the College has been consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union to relay timely information to students.

Voekel said she wants the College to put pressure on Dartmouth Coach to block ICE agents from boarding buses. While the College may not have the legal capacity to do so, Voekel said the College can informally ask about the Dartmouth Coach’s policies, especially in cases when there might be parents traveling to campus for graduation.

Similarly, there have also been concerns among students about protection by Safety and Security if ICE agents were to come to campus.

“The College is saying that ‘We will not engage in any civil disobedience over this issue.’ That’s their prerogative, but that’s a problem,” Coffey said. “We’re hitting a point in our country where civil disobedience is going to be necessary unless people just want to stand by and watch others get deported, and some people who face deportation face certain death as a consequence of it. Any person with a real conscience can’t sit by and watch that happen.”

In the last year, Voekel said she has had to help, in one way or another, about 10 students with immigration issues, either because they themselves were undocumented or they came from families of mixed backgrounds.

Voekel said she would like to see an office, such as the University of California, Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program, which offers services specifically to help students navigate legal issues, established at Dartmouth. She also hopes to see a centralized fund for affected students and a list of immigration lawyers. While Voekel is happy to help, students should not have to depend on the goodwill of a few professors, she said.

Coffey further echoed the need for administrative advances, citing the pressing importance of civil rights in the country today.

“Pragmatism is a sort of complicity — you can’t just get people to just stay quiet to avoid rocking the boat and hope that everything just passes,” she said.