Op-ed submission: A call for sanctuary: Student letter to the administration

Concerned and affected students

After a public show of support from faculty and graduate employees, students met with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White on Monday March 6. Our next scheduled meeting, when we expect to hear back about implementation, is March 23. The following statement provides the list of measures that we presented to Dr. White.

We believe this is an incredibly delicate political moment in the history of this country and this institution. Although similar bans, registries and deportation schemes have been introduced in the U.S. before, this is an unprecedented moment of border imperialism, racist state surveillance and alienation of human rights. The impact of this ban extends beyond the political, wreaking havoc on the emotional health and psyche of all affected individuals. Regardless of our citizenship status, each and every one of us, inadvertently or otherwise, is being pulled into a terrifying moment of racial profiling and physical threat.

We believe there is a need for administration to listen to directly and indirectly affected students about what concrete forms of support they need from the institution. It is important that “indirectly” affected students are included because this ban has already been shown to have targeted people beyond the officially stated seven (now six) countries. All Muslims have witnessed growing suspicion, the government has also hinted repeatedly that it might extend the number of countries at any point. We cannot focus only on the list of officially banned countries, because our everyday reality makes clear that the official wording of the ban is being reinterpreted by state and society, to target all Muslims. The citizens of countries not officially named are being targeted under the radar, and their treatment is not being covered by the regular media and legal channels. We have reports of Indian Muslims (hence Muslims not from a Muslim-majority country) and Pakistanis being arbitrarily refused travel authorization, harassed at immigration and denied entry. Similarly, it is important to recognize that the deportation raids being enacted in the shadow of the ban are placing students and faculty who are Latinx, undocumented, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and DREAMers at grave risk.

The traumatic toll, fear and uncertainty that this ban takes on students is not necessarily something the University can completely remedy. This is too urgent a time for us to draw comfort from the promise of support “when the time comes.” Therefore, we ask that the University go beyond simply making “statements” that suggest support from the University at the moment of actual confrontation. 

In these times of heightened surveillance and dehumanization, we ask that Washington University immediately enact concrete measures to defend and protect its students, staff, faculty, and campus community as the climate of fear and precarity unfolds around us all.

We urge the University to join its peer institutions in taking the following actions:

  1. Establish a continuing focus group with directly and “indirectly” affected students to address concerns that come up as additional executive orders and laws come into effect. As part of this focus group:

Reach out to international students, faculty, staff, and campus workers from the officially named countries and from Muslim-majority countries in general, as well as students, faculty, staff and campus workers who are undocumented, DACA recipients, or DREAMers.

Reach out to Muslim and Latinx students who are not international students.

Meet with the focus group on a regular basis.

  1. Offer pro-bono legal advice and protection to affected students, faculty, staff, University and on-campus contract workers.

Establish an emergency international and toll-free telephone number in case anyone is inadvertently pulled over or questioned off campus, particularly given that St. Louis is not a sanctuary city and people can be stopped and asked to present their documents at any time.

Take these steps prior to spring break for those who are traveling and face legal threats.

  1. Offer free and safe housing to students who may not be able to return home for summer and winter breaks. Request faculty and staff to consider housing students if the need arises.
  1. Refuse to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials without a warrant by:

Preventing federal immigration officials from entering campus spaces, including residential colleges.

Refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of students, staff, and/or University community members.

Prohibiting Washington University Police Department officers from enforcing immigration laws.

Confirming that email communications are safe within the University community

  1. In the event of DACA cancellation, provide financial support and loan forgiveness for students whose immigration status—and therefore work authorization—has been altered.
  1. Offer mental health resources that allow students to continue their academic careers in the midst of the emotional toll created by environments of fear, violence, and intolerance by:

Sending out an email to faculty that directs them to information related to the legal implications of the ban as well as mental health resources for their students.

Utilizing disability resources, such as note-takers, to allow students to continue participating in classes if they are unable to attend classes due to legal or mental health-related reasons.

Scheduling a meeting with Student Health Services to discuss how they can offer resources like Let’s Talk to affected students, and how they can train and hire new staff to address concerns of international, undocumented, Muslim and Latinx students.

  1. Improve transparency and accessibility of information and resources by:

Sending out a press release detailing the administration’s plan for addressing these concerns.

Creating a webpage like Columbia University’s that centralizes information and resources.

Assigning a coordinator to the task of making information and resources widely available and accessible and responding to questions from members of the University community and their families.
While advice on legality and rights is helpful and necessary, what we really need to know is how the University will actually protect us from this recent spike in surveillance, harassment, entry denial and deportation. We believe that Wash. U. should join its peer institutions, including the Universities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Columbia and Northwestern, as well as 16 other schools, in taking action against the ban. What will fall 2017 look like for entering students in all schools across our campus? Who can we contact if we are inadvertently faced with law enforcement officials, especially traffic police, as we go about our lives outside campus? What will it look like for students to travel over spring break and for parents visiting for graduation in a few months? Now more than ever, we need reassurance that the University has measures in place in case any of us—students, faculty, staff, workers, community members—are faced with carceral state policies.

Here’s the petition you can sign to show support and/or get involved.