The College speaks about immigrant issue

Last November, after the election of President Donald Trump, President Jane Fernandes sent out an email to the campus community on how Guilford College would respond to potential changes in immigration policy.

Among other things, it stated the College would not declare itself a sanctuary but would continue to support students regardless of immigration status. Since then, however, there have been no statements from the College on what that support might look like.

“I have been very pleased with Jane and the way she has engaged in the conversation,” said senior José Oliva. “(People think), because there is no statement, … there is no work happening. A lot of people like the sound bite of, … ‘We are pro-immigrant, pro-blah-blah,’ but that without action means nothing.”

Recently, raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have increased, and according to The Guardian, two recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy have been detained, bringing the future of undocumented students into the national spotlight.

The College administration says they are participating in ongoing discussions to ensure DACA and undocumented students are protected at the College.

“It’s a moving conversation,” said Fernandes. “Sometimes it’s been senior team members, sometimes trustees, sometimes our college attorneys, … immigration attorneys, various students, … faculty and staff, but it’s been more roving discernment than group discernment.”

One of the groups in this roving discernment was a number of student leaders who spoke with Fernandes.

“(They) asked for more comprehensive support for undocumented and documented students … and (to make) sure that Guilford continues to open its doors to undocumented and documented students,” said Irving Zavaleta Jimenez ’08, assistant director for multicultural education and Latino community coordinator. “Jane seemed very willing to work with them.”

The administration has been discussing responses to some specific issues — what the College should do if it receives a court order for information about a student, for instance.

“We have plans, mostly through trying to anticipate various circumstances that could happen,” said Fernandes. “I don’t know that we can predict how we would respond to … incidents every time. But I’m happy to talk to anybody about what the policies could be. If there are policies that we could put into place that would be helpful, I’d be happy to consider (them).”

The College does not keep records of which students are undocumented and follows federal student privacy laws, which further limit information that can be released even with a court order.

How the College might respond to other potential challenges of the new immigration regime is still unclear.

“The last time we saw this was in the 1950s,” said Oliva. “There were massive deportations where even U.S. citizens were deported. So, unless you are close to 80 and you are a (college) president, you have never seen this. … There are no systems in place at Guilford. There are no systems in place at other colleges.”

Todd Clark, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Fernandes both cited the difficulty in creating a specific policy for the range of possible issues that might arise.

“There’s not a policy for that,” said Clark when asked if Guilford has a plan if a student is detained by ICE. “It’s not a common practice. You’re going to write out a policy for every potential situation. Our emergency action plan doesn’t have a policy for every potential emergency you might have.

“But … our goal is to support our students and do that in the context of the values of the Institution. And I think you would find those (are) the guiding forces that we would take in response to that situation.”

Some worry that not having clear policies will hinder responses, rather than allow for flexibility.

“We have to come up with something between how many students we’re going to accept, what’s our principles, how is this policy going to be informed (and) what are we prepared to do,” said Andrew Young, volunteer training coordinator at the Bonner Center. “What we can’t really accept is just case-by-case basis because case-by-case basis just means (doing) whatever the heck we feel like doing at the time.”

Part of deciding what the College is prepared to do is determining how far it is willing to go.

“I don’t think anyone’s had that conversation yet,” said Young. “Is the Institution ready to break the law? When we look at Guilford, how far is Guilford willing to go?

“We do want to be supportive, but we don’t want to break the bank. We want to be supportive, but we have to think about all the other students who are here. … As adults, I think we should be ready to talk about it.”

When asked about the College potentially defying the law, Fernandes said that such a step would require the support of the board of trustees, and that she had not discussed it with them yet.

Beyond campus, there is also an ongoing conversation about what role Guilford should play in the wider Greensboro community. Members of Guilford, including Fernandes, Oliva and Young, have attended meetings of the American Friends Service Committee’s Sanctuary Everywhere initiative, which seeks to create a network of institutions — churches, campuses and businesses — that will support immigrants.

“(Besides Fernandes), I haven’t seen any other president show up to this kind of meeting,” said Oliva.

Young would like to see Guilford take an even more public stance.

“To me, it’s pretty clear when you read the core values,” he said. “Unless you are going to waffle on them, … Guilford should be out front. And if it was out front, we wouldn’t be the only people out there because there are lots of people at lots of organizations that have taken stances.”

For now, the College administration is still working through all the potential issues that may face Guilford and its undocumented students in the near future.

“I’ve probably spent more hours working on this than on any other topic in my time as president,” said Fernandes. “This is a deeply disturbing situation that’s happening to our students. I’m doing everything I can to make sure Guilford will be standing in support of their education, but I know it’s not always visible.”

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