Hanlon responds to CoFIRED petition

by Debora Hyemin Han | 1/5/17 3:06am

In public and private responses to a petition calling for Dartmouth to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented students, College President Phil Hanlon reaffirmed the school’s support for its undocumented students but has stopped short of adopting the title.

The petition asks the College to protect students from President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises to implement stricter immigration policies, including measures to overturn Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program currently protects over 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation and makes them eligible for work authorization.

In a campus-wide email on Nov. 18, Hanlon stated that Dartmouth “will work within the bounds of the law to mitigate any effects on our students caused by possible revisions to DACA and other immigration policies.” Hanlon was also among 550 university presidents who signed a letter entitled “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students,” published on the Pomona College website.

But the public commitments have fallen short of the petition’s appeals. Sent out by Dartmouth’s Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers on Nov. 16, it calls for non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in localizing and detaining students and the establishment of a non-compliance pact with ICE.

In addition, the petition calls on the College to offer legal and mental health support to those affected by Trump’s election; create a pool of funds for undocumented students and their families to pay for legal counsel and DACA fees; and provide sensitivity training for staff and faculty on the rights of undocumented students and resources to protect those rights.

As of Nov. 17, 1,400 students, faculty and staff had signed the petition, its organizers told The Valley News in November.

In a correspondence with Geovanni Cuevas ’14, Hanlon clarified that the College would not play the role of enforcer on immigration laws. Cuevas initially reached out to Hanlon asking for comment while comparing Dartmouth’s position to that of Oregon State University, which declared itself a sanctuary campus. The university stated that it does not and will not enforce federal immigration laws or release confidential student information unless required by law. OSU also declared that they would oppose the creation of federal registries based on protected characteristics, such as religion, national origin or other identities.

In Hanlon’s email response to Cuevas, he outlined College policies that generally matched those of OSU. He said that while it is the job of federal officials, not the College, to enforce federal laws, the College can and will take actions to protect its students should they prove necessary. Dartmouth would not release student information to immigration officials without a judicial order, as required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Hanlon wrote, adding that no information would be released unless Dartmouth’s legal counsel determined it was legally required. He also said immigration officials would not be allowed in non-public areas of the campus without a warrant.

Hanlon declined requests for an interview with The Dartmouth. Instead, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence forwarded a Dec. 15 email Hanlon sent to all Vermont and New Hampshire Congressional delegates and Dartmouth alumni in Congress. In it, he urged them to do their utmost to “ensure the continuation and expansion of DACA through work with the incoming administration and/or legislative actions.”

Lawrence also forwarded a letter Hanlon sent to the Dartmouth Association of Latinx Alumni. In it, he outlined many of the same commitments that he made in his correspondence with Cuevas, saying that the College’s top priority is the safety and security of its students. In addition, he noted that Dartmouth does not maintain a registry of students’ documentation status.

There is no standard definition for what constitutes a sanctuary campus, and the term has no legal meaning. Other members of the Ivy League, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, have declared that they will support policies similar to those at Dartmouth, such as refusing to share information with immigration officials without a warrant. UPenn called itself a “sanctuary” for its students, and the Columbia Daily Spectator released an article saying the university would provide “sanctuary” for its undocumented immigrants. Neither institution has officially adopted the term “sanctuary campus,” though other media outlets have applied the term to those schools.

Other universities, such as Princeton University and Harvard University, have stated that their campuses will not become sanctuary campuses, citing the term’s lack of a legal basis. However, Princeton has expressed support for similar policies as Dartmouth, Penn and Columbia. Harvard’s police department has indicated that they will not seek out information on its students’ immigration status or enforce immigration laws.

Emails to the official CoFIRED account from The Dartmouth did not receive a response.

Valentina Garcia Gonzalez ’19, an undocumented student with DACA status, said she believes Dartmouth should be willing to break federal law in order to protect its undocumented students. She sees Dartmouth’s status as a private institution in a small town as one that positions it well to agree to the petition.

“We’re not doing [the petition] to have a little safe space, we’re not doing it to have another little center on campus,” she said. “We’re doing it because people’s lives are literally at stake.”

Garcia Gonzalez said that the College should declare now that it will protect its undocumented student population as the threat posed by Trump’s proposed policies is an imminent one. She added that she believes Dartmouth is responsible for her safety during her time as an undergraduate student.

“If anything were to happen to me, it’s kind of Dartmouth’s fault because I was there, [my family] was entrusting me [to] that campus,” she said.

The national debate sparked by the sanctuary campus movement regarding the relationship between educational institutions and federal law, as well as the role of civil disobedience in achieving legal reform, has resonated on campus.

Tyler Baum ’20, a Trump supporter, noted that the Trump administration has not yet entered the White House, and that it remains to be seen what measures will actually be put into place. While he is in favor of immigration reform, Baum said he is “very opposed” to sanctuary campuses and cities because they go against federal laws, adding that he does not believe it is Dartmouth’s place to break those laws.

“When there is a law that is disagreed with, I think it is essential to have civilized discussion about this, and it’s absolutely lethal to society if an individual is ignoring a law because they may not agree with it,” Baum said. “There are certain laws that I do disagree with, but ignoring them is never a positive step for yourself or for the rest of society or for the future of the country.”

In contrast, Garcia Gonzalez said that Dartmouth should not follow any potential laws that would require the deportation of undocumented Dartmouth students. She noted that to say the country is based on law and everyone follows these laws is hypocritical.

“We don’t [follow these laws],” Garcia Gonzalez said. “We follow the laws that are convenient for us. If we are a country of laws and powers, these laws and powers aren’t made and constructed for [minorities], for us.”

Chris McCorkle ’20, though he did not vote for Trump, supports the incoming president and does not agree with the petition. However, he believes Dartmouth has the right to oppose federal laws it is strongly opposed to, which can set legal precedents and change stagnant laws.

Cuevas, who does believe Dartmouth should become a sanctuary campus, added to this sentiment.

“I believe that part of our heritage as Americans… is our right to dissent, our right to disagree with people who directly oversee us and people who govern us,” he said. “That is quite literally the core of our founding documents: our ability as people to dissent.”

Students interviewed had varied reactions to Hanlon’s response to the petition.

Garcia Gonzalez said the election results were the “final push” for her decision to be off campus during the winter term, and that Hanlon’s public email to campus did not reassure her.

“What more can I do for Hanlon or for the administration to take a firm stance on something?” she asked.

Baum said he appreciates Hanlon’s statement that the College will work within the bounds of the law, though he believes that the College’s messages should focus more on moving forward and working with the incoming administration rather than consoling those who are upset with the election’s outcome.

“Those are the types of things we stand for — being change makers and always having a voice and working across the aisle,” he said. “I don’t see that as being encouraged right now.”

McCorkle said Hanlon handled the situation appropriately.

“He’s at a good spot where he is now because he is simply asking for support, which is I think what our undocumented students need, because as of right now there is no action implemented yet,” he said.

Cuevas said Dartmouth “should at least hold itself to a standard of intellectual honesty and have open debate,” even if it is not willing declare itself a sanctuary campus.

“Right now, this conversation is happening behind closed doors, and it’s not okay,” he said. “Other campuses are walking out of their classes, other campuses are less apathetic.”