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Ivy League works to assist students in face of threatening immigration policies

Universities offer legal resources, institutional support to those affected by immigration policies

As President Trump approaches his 100th day in office, still adamant on tightening immigration policy, undocumented students and students targeted by Trump’s immigration bans still face an uncertain future. However, Ivy League schools have taken action through public and private measures to support their undocumented students and international students from the six Muslim-majority countries listed in Trump’s second executive order.

In this year alone, universities in the Ivy League took legal action against both of Trump’s executive orders on immigration by filing amici curiae briefs in February and April, The Herald previously reported. As members of the Association of American Universities, Ivy League schools also signed a public letter protesting Trump’s actions that curtailed entry into the United States for individuals from six Muslim-majority countries, The Herald previously reported.

While these statements reiterate the valuable role of international students and scholars across the Ivies, each school has developed its own approach to providing holistic support to vulnerable student communities — from lobbying government officials to providing mental health resources.

Lobbying for the preservation of DACA

In response to growing concerns about the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, several Ivy League universities have begun lobbying government officials to save the program.

For the first time in its history, Princeton began officially lobbying on the issue of the DACA program by advocating for the passage of the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, the Daily Princetonian reported March 2. The BRIDGE Act “would allow people who are eligible for — or who already have — DACA to receive work authorization” and remain in the United States “for, at most, three years,” according to the website of the National Immigration Law Center.

Lobbyists from the AAU were present when the act was first introduced, the Daily Princetonian reported. Princeton has also “been involved in educating lawmakers about the importance of the Act (and) has submitted a statement of support” of the Act.

Princeton is not the only Ivy League school seeking the act’s passage. According to Cornell’s news page, Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of Cornell’s graduate school, met with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in an effort to secure his sponsorship of the act.

Meanwhile, Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard, met “Harvard alumni in the Department of Homeland Security to discuss how changes to (DACA) could affect undocumented students,” reported the Harvard Crimson Dec. 12. Faust also met with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Schumer to discuss “federal policies protecting undocumented students,” the Crimson reported in February. She also met with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who co-sponsored the BRIDGE Act alongside Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. to discuss the act.

Steven Gerencser, assistant director of government relations at Brown, said securing the passage of the BRIDGE Act through lobbying has been a “priority for Brown.” He added that President Christina Paxson P’19 has met with Brown’s Congressional delegation to speak about this issue.

Providing legal representation and support

Ivy League schools, including Brown, have also allocated legal resources to undocumented students who may need them, as well as to international students from the six Muslim-majority countries listed in Trump’s most recent executive order on immigration.

In an email to The Herald, Marisa Quinn, chief of staff to Provost Richard Locke, wrote: “We believe it is important for students to trust and feel comfortable with the attorney of their choosing and have offered possible options of area attorneys for consideration. In some instances, the attorneys have provided services on a pro bono basis, while in others, the University has covered associated fees. We have also had alumni offer pro bono services and can also make those available to students for consideration.”

The University has “offered access to immigration and legal advising” and housing to affected students over breaks in addition to virtual learning opportunities for students stranded abroad, according to a University press release.

The Herald previously reported that the University covers one appointment with an attorney of a student’s choosing under its undocumented student initiative. As per this arrangement, students can usually meet with immigration lawyers twice to discuss applying for or renewing their DACA status, in addition to discussing family legal issues.

Some universities go so far as to guarantee legal representation to their students. In a column written in the Yale Daily News after the election, President of Yale Peter Salovey wrote that Yale was “committed to making sure that our students who face legal action as a result of any changes in the government’s stance on immigration enforcement have legal representation, and the University will provide resources to help those students.”

According to Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars website, students in need of legal assistance are asked to email the office’s director.

Some universities have utilized their law school resources to provide legal representation for undocumented students. In an email to The Herald, Jason Corral, a staff attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinic, wrote that he provides “complete representation to immigrants within the Harvard Community and (is) paid by the University.”

Corral wrote that his main priority is to assist undocumented and DACA students at Harvard. “I do provide full representation to students that are interested in applying for and renewing their DACA status. Further, I am available on a limited basis to the families of undocumented and DACAmented students in so far as investigating forms of relief available to family members that may include the student. For the needs of family members living in other states I try to connect them with legal resources outside of Massachusetts such as other clinical programs and legal services agencies.”

Corral also wrote that he can work with Harvard faculty and staff but “continued availability in that regard may be subject to capacity if the demand becomes too great. It is assumed that faculty and staff are more likely to have the financial resources to obtain outside counsel if necessary.”

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinic, which is staffed by seven attorneys, also provides immigrant legal services to the greater Boston and Cambridge area on humanitarian-based cases including asylum cases. “HIRC does have clients that are in removal proceedings,” Corral wrote.

However, Corral, who is in charge of representing members of the Harvard community, wrote that he has “not had to represent anybody from the Harvard community in immigration court nor am I aware of anybody that is currently facing removal proceedings,” but he has “applications pending before (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for adjustment of status (green card) and asylum.”

The clinic has also partnered with the law firm WilmerHale, which “agreed to provide some pro bono services to assure that we meet the demands of the Harvard community.”

Cornell has also used legal clinics available through its law school to provide affected students with legal representation. Beth Lyon, a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and founder of Cornell’s Farmworker’s Legal Assistance Clinic, said that “because … we had people who did a range of different kinds of immigration work, we felt comfortable in offering our resources as direct representation to our students at Cornell.”

As per university policy, “our resources are available to provide counseling, brief advice and referral … to undocumented students and DACA students across the university” free of charge, she added. The university was able to cover the costs through a “specific fundraising appeal,” she said.

In an email to The Herald, Sarah Paoletti, a practice professor of  law and director of the Transnational Legal Clinic at Penn’s law school, wrote that the university “has not set up a legal assistance fund for our students” but that “in terms of legal aid to UPenn students, (the Transnational Legal Clinic with support from our Toll Public Interest Center) conducted three immigration information and referral clinics for members of the Penn community. Those were free clinics, where law students were on hand to provide basic information and responses to general questions and assist in screenings — and then we had members of (a private law firm) on hand for free immigration consults. For two of the three clinics, we also had a representative from” the university’s International Student and Scholar Services office, she said. In addition, during the third clinic, Paoletti found that some people had been calling one of the local legal services providers and that three or four of those cases will now receive pro-bono representation.   

Harvard, Columbia and Cornell also offered know-your-Rights presentations. Corral said he and HIRC staff members had hosted several know-your-rights presentations on campus and off campus, which “initially focused on rights surrounding international travel and took the form of town hall style forums.” They have also hosted general know-your-rights presentations on immigration law.

“We’ve had (Cornell) students and non-law faculty do know-your-rights presentations,” Lyon said. She added that undocumented students also created “sensitivity training sessions” for staff members.

“It trains people who deal a lot with the students about the issues that undocumented and DACA students face, what the threats are as far as the stressors are in their lives,” McKee added.

Other universities have partnered with external law firms to provide their students with legal support. According to Dartmouth’s Office of Visa and Immigration Services’ website, Dartmouth has enlisted the help of Curran & Berger LLP to “provide support and assistance to undocumented students on campus, including workshops/information sessions on DACA and DACA renewals (and) representation of individual students and their families (with discounted attorney fees).”

In a letter titled “Dear Colleagues: Executive Order on Immigration,” Debbie Prentice, dean of the faculty at Princeton, wrote that the university, which does not have a law school, had “shared with potentially affected students and scholars the information we are receiving from a law firm that follows these matters closely and has advised members of our community in the past.” The letter includes a link to Fragomen Worldwide Immigration Law Firm.

Ixchel Rosal, associate vice president for student life at Columbia, said “the university itself is not offering (legal) representation but the university has secured the pro bono services of a law firm in town. We can refer students to that law firm.”

Reluctance to become a sanctuary campus

While universities have made efforts to connect students with legal resources, no school in the Ivy League has explicitly agreed to call themselves a sanctuary campus.

In an email addressed to students at Penn, Amy Gutmann, president of Penn, wrote that the university “is and has always been a ‘sanctuary’ — a safe place for our students to live and to learn.”

However, Gutmann noticeably left out the word “campus,” which was intentional, wrote Paoletti in her email to The Herald. “Guttman also noted that the university stood by and valued its DACA students and international students and would continue to support the DACA program,” Paoletti wrote. “And, finally, (Guttman) noted the university would not cooperate with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and would not facilitate any ICE enforcement action without a court order. So, in practical effect, Penn is a ‘sanctuary campus.’ We also happen to be in a city that is a sanctuary city, with very strong statements from our mayor,” Paoletti wrote.

Harvard declined to declare itself a sanctuary campus because administrators believed that the term “offers no concrete protections and may put undocumented students in greater danger,” according to the Crimson.

However, in an email to The Herald, Phil Torrey, a managing attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinical Program, wrote about the sanctuary campus toolkit that he created for the Cosecha Movement, a nonviolent advocacy group working for undocumented immigrants. The toolkit addresses the concerns administrators frequently have about using the term “sanctuary campus.” Torrey wrote that “the kit provides legal foundation for many different strategies that campuses can pursue that are both legal and protective of their immigrant communities.” Torrey also wrote that he hopes the Harvard administration will change its perspective on the use of “sanctuary campus.”

“The administration is taking tactics that courts are questioning and tactics that rely on fear and intimidation. It’s important for communities to show that they will not stand for such tactics,” he wrote.

Student and community support

Columbia has also created support groups specifically for undocumented students through their Counseling and Psychological Services. Rosal said that after the election, “some of the undocumented and DACA students were feeling very stressed and feeling very isolated. We reached out to the Counseling and Psychological Services here on campus to see what support we could offer to these students.”

“The idea came up to create a support group specifically for DACA and undocumented students,” she added. Rosal declined to provide specific details about the group for confidentiality reasons.

Bita Shooshani, a licensed mental health counselor at Brown, said that Counseling and Psychological Services did not have a support group specifically for undocumented students at this time. She added that she worried that forming a group specifically for these students might be a “safety concern.”

However, Shooshani also said that it was critical for undocumented students at Brown to know that CAPS resources are available to them. “Services are totally accessible to them in terms of being concerned about any confidentiality questions that they might have.”

“Confidentiality is something that’s reviewed with students when they come in. … If they were to be affected by something that (causes them to need to speak to) …  someone immediately, we do offer triage services,” she added.

Shooshani also pointed out the work of Jorge Vargas, CAPS’s student care coordinator. “He identifies resources that would help students with …  (accessing) housing and legal support resources as well,” she said.

Students have also taken active roles in advocating for their peers. Student groups like the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition played leading roles in informing administrators on how to better support undocumented and DACA students on campus, The Herald previously reported.

At Princeton, student activism played a large role in campus dialogue due to the work of Princeton Advocates for Justice, an intersectional student group advocating for human rights. PAJ is a “coalition of roughly 30 or so student groups (on campus),” said Nicholas Wu, president of PAJ.

After Trump issued his first travel ban, PAJ organized a Feb.17 event where over 300 people sent letters and made calls to members of Congress, Wu said.

Since that event, Wu said that the group has remained active by holding a fundraiser for the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund at Princeton and helping organize a protest demanding the university divest from private prisons and their “role in migrant detention.” The group also took an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., he added.

“In the wake of what happened with the first travel bans and other steps that the Trump administration has taken, we felt that these broad affronts to basic human rights needed a broader coalition-based response, and that’s where the impetus (to form) this group really came from,” Wu said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Phil Torrey, a managing attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinical Program, wrote in an email to The Herald that he hopes that Harvard administration will change its perspective on sanctuary campuses. In fact, Torrey wrote that he hopes the Trump administration will change its perspective on sanctuary campuses. The Herald regrets the error.  



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