Professors spearhead push for Sullivan to support DACA students

Two University professors, in collaboration with the CIO DREAMers on Grounds, have drafted a letter to University President Teresa Sullivan showing support for undocumented University students.

So far, the letter has garnered more than 600 signatures from both students and faculty.

The letter asks the University administration to consider taking actions to ensure students protected by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy continue to receive protection as President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

DACA allows children who arrived in the United States after 1981 to work and go to school without fear of being deported. While it allows immigrants to be in the country legally, it does not guarantee citizenship. Trump said during his campaign he would reverse Obama’s executive actions and orders, including DACA, and would deport all undocumented immigrants.

“Here at U.Va., without the provisions afforded by DACA, undocumented students who have excelled in and outside of the classroom will be denied the opportunity to continue their studies and complete their degrees,” the letter reads. “In light of this state of doubt, and joining with leading institutions of higher learning, we ask that U.Va. affirm its commitment to the safety and security of all students, and especially to DACA students.”

In addition to showing support, the letter lists six proposals for the University administration to consider to help continue to protect undocumented students.

Catherine Toro, a third-year College student and secretary of DREAMers on Grounds, said DREAMers already had a list of needs which they presented to the Board of Visitors during a protest Nov. 11. Protesters also shared their concerns in a meeting with Sullivan later the same day.

Profs. Anne-Garland Mahler and Allison Bigelow, both in the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese Department, drafted the letter.

“When the Spanish professors started drafting this letter, they contacted us to get our input and find out what undocumented students needed from U.Va.,” Toro said. “So we just forwarded that list of demands and they incorporated that in their letter.”

Some of the requests made in the letter include making the University a sanctuary campus, continuing to allow qualifying DACA students to pay in-state tuition and creating an administrative office to counsel DACA students.

A sanctuary campus, which Toro said is a relatively new concept, comes from the idea of a sanctuary city — a city in which a major declares an agreement between law enforcement and constituents to not report people to immigration authorities.

“The way that it ends up playing out is if an undocumented person is a victim of a crime, they can call the police without worrying about being deported,” Toro said.

Toro said the concept is very similar on a sanctuary campus, in which if a student is harmed and needs to call the police, he can do so without fear of being detained.

Hannah Borja, a second-year College student and public relations chair for DREAMers, said she personally believes the University maintaining DACA’s tuition agreement is the most important proposal for now.

“DACA allows you to get in-state tuition because for a lot of students, if they didn’t have DACA, they would have to register as an international student,” Borja said. “Undocumented students are in a lot less stable of a financial situation, so they can’t afford to be international students.”

Borja said she is primarily referring to students who have lived in Virginia since they were younger, saying it is unfair for them to be required to register as an international student.

“It’s very easy for U.Va. to honor previously agreed to financial agreements,” Borja said. “It’s not even that U.Va. has to change anything, it literally just has to keep letting students attend here under the financial agreement that was settled beforehand.”

Borja also discussed the importance of instituting more effective counseling services for undocumented students, noting how these students deal with unique issues such as familial separation, a change in culture and the fear of being deported. Counseling and Psychological Services cannot provide sufficient support for these problems, she said.

“There are counselors that are specific to those issues, and CAPS only has I think one person that is kind of familiar with refugee stuff,” Borja said. “They have one person in CAPS that kind of knows what’s going on, but we want someone who definitely knows what’s going on and we want them in CAPS and we want them accessible for all undocumented and migrant students.”

Sending this letter is important because the University has “a duty to support and protect its students,” Borja said.

“These students are members of the U.Va. community, and U.Va. has a duty to that community,” Borja said. “This presidency doesn’t change that, it actually just makes the support that U.Va. needs to provide that much more important.”

Italian Prof. Stella Mattioli said she chose to sign the letter because she believes every individual should have the chance to receive a good education.

“I really don’t think it’s fair that somebody risks to lose everything and to be potentially deported, just because they searched to have a college education,” Mattioli said in an email statement. “It’s important to me that the University stands next to its students.”

Although Sullivan has yet to receive the letter, University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said the University is “committed to providing a world-class education to students enrolled at the institution.”

“The University is encouraging DACA students to continue their pursuit of a U.Va. education,” de Bruyn said in an email statement. “It would be premature to speculate on any changes to federal law that may be proposed by the new administration or Congress.”

However, Borja said the uncertainty of what the new administration and Congress will implement is a reason why the letter requests immediate action from the University.

“Because [Trump is] so unpredictable, we need to institute all of this immediately so no matter what he does and no matter when he does it, these things are in place,” Borja said. “It’s being pushed for immediately to protect all these students in the best way possible.”

The letter is publicly available on the DREAMers on Grounds Facebook page.

The Cavalier Daily reached out to Mahler and Bigelow for comment but did not receive a response before press time.