Alumnus resigns over College response to ending of DACA

by Saba Nejad | 2/13/18 2:05am

On Jan. 30, Unai Montes-Irueste ’98, former vice president of the Dartmouth Association of Latinx Alumni, published an open letter on Facebook declaring that he is cutting all ties with the College over its handling of issues surrounding undocumented students.

Montes-Irueste announced that he would be resigning as vice president, as well as resigning from the board of the Dartmouth Club of Los Angeles and the board of the Class of 1998. He has also decided to refrain from donating to the College, interviewing prospective students and attending his class reunion, his letter stated.

The impetus for his decisions, according to the letter, was the College’s inaction in protecting its undocumented students. In his letter, Montes-Irueste described his multiple attempts to have the administration address the needs of vulnerable students and what he considers inadequate responses from the College.

On Nov. 18, 2016, shortly after the presidential election, several alumni organizations, including DALA, on whose board Montes-Irueste previously served, penned a letter to College President Phil Hanlon and several higher-level administrators and faculty members. The letter called for the College to protect undocumented students and other vulnerable groups on campus.

Amaris De La Rosa ’16 Th’17 was among the 14 alumni who signed the letter in 2016.

“[President Donald] Trump’s campaign and his supporters made it clear that his presidency would dismantle [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] and bolster [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” De La Rosa said. “As an alum and B.E. student at the time, signing this letter felt like one of the few ways I could try make a change. I felt an urgency to help students from my community on campus and a hope that Dartmouth’s name could help inspire other college campuses.”

On Nov. 16 2016, CoFIRED petitioned the administration to release a statement “declaring [Dartmouth a sanctuary city] in its efforts to continue supporting undocumented students. The same day he received the Nov. 18 alumni letter, Hanlon sent a campus-wide email in which he stated that the College “will work within the bounds of the law to mitigate any effects on [its] students caused by possible revisions to DACA and other immigration policies.”

Hanlon also co-signed a Nov. 21, 2016 letter with over 600 university presidents entitled “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students.”

De La Rosa said this response was vague. According to Montes-Irueste’s letter, Hanlon’s response “contained no commitments.”

“Those of us within the Latinx community wondered if this meant the College would actually help undocumented students or help them pack their bags,” De La Rosa said.

She added that she did not hear anything from the administration regarding support for undocumented students prior to her graduation in June 2017, nor has she heard anything since becoming an alumna.

“This has not been surprising, as [Hanlon] has never seemed to care about the communities of students of color on campus,” she said.

De La Rosa heard about Montes-Irueste’s letter through multiple Facebook groups, such as DALA and Hij@s de Dartmouth.

“[Montes-Irueste] has been someone actively involved for many years, so I understand his frustration,” De La Rosa said. “As a young [alumnus], I feel that myself, and others who have recently graduated should continue to try to pressure the College. I feel like a lot of this is about power dynamics, and as I personally gain more influence, I want Dartmouth to reflect and support its diverse community.”

Yaritza González Rodríguez ’15 signed the November 2016 letter on behalf of the Dartmouth Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers. While she declined to comment on the number of students affected by DACA’s rescission, she said that “even if it were just one [student], that matters.”

On Sept. 5, 2017, the day Trump rescinded DACA, CoFIRED wrote a letter to the administration calling on Hanlon to meet a list of demands. These include releasing a statement committing to undocumented students’ safety, declaring that the College will refrain from cooperating with ICE in localizing and detaining students and providing financial aid to cover undocumented students’ contributions, among other things.

In a Feb. 5 statement, the College posted an update on DACA and on the College’s current actions to “assist, support and protect its DACA students.”

“Dartmouth continues to meet the full need of all admitted students,” the statement said. “If students are unable to work for any reason, we assist them in identifying outside scholarships and Dartmouth loans that enable them to defer payment until after graduation.”

González Rodríguez said she does not believe that undocumented students should have to receive loans, given that their political situation is out of their control. Furthermore, if DACA is not reinstated, these students will still not have a work permit after graduation, making it difficult for them to pay back their loans, she said. For this reason, several members of the "Women of Dartmouth | Unofficial" Facebook group have been trying to create a fund supporting undocumented students, she said.

What Montes-Irueste said he found most frustrating is that instead of responding to the specific demands in CoFIRED’s letter, the College instead sent out two emails. One email, sent by the Office of Visa and Immigration Services to members of CoFIRED on Sept. 8, 2017, offered individual advising sessions with an attorney scheduled almost two weeks after the Sept. 5, 2017, letter was sent. Hanlon also sent an email, addressed to all students, faculty and staff, expressing disappointment in Trump’s decision to rescind DACA. Additionally, he wrote that College officials would be in direct communication with members of Congress to continue advocating for DACA or an alternative over the following six months.

Montes-Irueste was critical of the College’s responses.

“Since November of 2016, Dartmouth College’s president, provost and executive committee have offered rhetoric without substance,” Montes-Irueste said.

He added that there has been a lack of response to students’, professors’ and alumni’s explicit requests, such as for Hanlon to declare Dartmouth a sanctuary campus, for undocumented students to be freed from financial obligations and for the Dartmouth Coach to be made a safe zone against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and border patrol officers without warrants.

In an email statement, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence reiterated points from Hanlon’s September 2017 email, writing that College officials “have been in direct and frequent communication with members of Congress to advocate strongly for the continuation of DACA.”

Additionally, Lawrence wrote that the College covered the costs of one-on-one consultations with attorneys, offered in fall 2017, and that students are able to request assistance with the cost of DACA-related fees through the Student Affairs office. The College has been in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union with the aim of sharing “the most timely and accurate information with students about invoking their rights,” according to Lawrence’s statement. It also stated that OVIS recently offered a “Know Your Rights” session that was open to all students, faculty and staff.

“OVIS provides and will continue to provide outreach and training to departments, offices, and individual faculty and staff members as well as an annual session for senior administrators on the status of DACA and issues facing DACA/undocumented students,” Lawrence wrote. It added that “[Dartmouth] remain[s] steadfast in [its] commitment to maintaining an environment free of harassment and discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status.”

Montes-Irueste said he sees this statement as “in of itself a betrayal.” As someone who has been on the board of the ACLU in Southern California since 2013, he said that the ACLU’s work in the area of “Know Your Rights” training occurs completely independent of what Dartmouth says or does.

“Dartmouth is trying to convince her critics that offering ‘Know Your Rights’ training through OVIS is the same as preventing ICE or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection from boarding buses and stopping them from coming on campus,” Montes-Irueste said. “You don’t have to have any degree of investment in this issue to know that what the College offers can be found via a Google search, and what students are asking for and deserve is leadership that rises to the level of the titles of those who have been entrusted with the charge of caring for the sons and daughters of Dartmouth.”

Correction Appended (Feb. 15, 2018): The Feb. 13 article "Alumnus resigns over College response to ending of DACA" originally stated that the "Women of Dartmouth" alumni group has been trying to create a fund supporting undocumented students. The article has been corrected to clarify that members of the Facebook group "Women of Dartmouth | Unofficial," which is not affiliated with the College's alumni relations office, discussed the potential fund.

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