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November 28, 2016

Faculty Coalition Group Organizes to Protect Undocumented Students

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Around 100 faculty members formed the Cornell Coalition for Inclusive Democracy last Monday, hoping to advance a petition to make the University a sanctuary campus for undocumented students, according to the coalition’s media representatives.

Prof. Aziz Rana, law — who heads the coalition’s Legal and Policy Working Group — explained that the coalition, primarily composed of Cornell faculty, was the result of a widespread desire to make the sanctuary petition more “cross campus.”

“The initial main petition was an effort that predated the formation of the coalition,” Rana said. “The members also thought it was essential to provide the main sanctuary petition with as much support as possible, both in terms of publicizing it and ensuring that there were other complementary statements and letters.”

Rana said he views sanctuary petitions, which have surfaced on campuses around the Ivy League, as appeals to universities’ values of “openness as a center of education and learning” and “commitment to anti-discrimination and egalitarian principles.”

“What all of [the petitions] are calling for is for these universities to stand by their own principles and, specifically in the context of undocumented students, to ensure that undocumented students are able to continue to study without fear of deportation or threat posed by the government,” he said.

Rana also addressed questions on the legal feasibility of forming sanctuary campuses, specifically at private universities, where several colleges have been hesitant to commit to resisting federal mandates. In a statement, Brown University administrators said they did not have the ability to provide students with full legal protection, while Columbia University pledged to resist immigration officials’ investigations if they had not obtained a subpoena or warrant.

Cornell’s Coalition for Inclusive Democracy plans to request that the administration decline to “actively cooperate” with efforts to deport students, although it is unclear what actions the University could take if pressured by a subpoena or warrant, according to Rana.

The widespread inconsistency in campus responses to sanctuary requests stems from uncertainty “about how far the university can actually go in resisting laws that come down,” according to Rana.

“The way that I read the Brown position was basically that they’re going to do everything they can to the extent within the legal means they have,” he said. “But they’re noting that if the government were to actually give warrants they might be limited in what they can do within the law.”

Disparate responses from universities are also attributable to uncertainty about how forceful the impending Trump administration will be in rolling back DACA protections, Rana said.

“Right now the picture remains pretty unclear exactly how aggressive the government is going to be in attempting to force the universities to cooperate, and that’s where the issue gets a little bit dicier,” Rana said.

However, Rana stressed that despite this hesitation, many university presidents have shown support for upholding DACA and protecting undocumented students. He also expressed his hope that national resistance to deportation efforts, even in the face of warrants, could create “real political pressure” on the government.

While Interim President Hunter Rawlings also released a statement Tuesday affirming the University’s support for undocumented students, the sanctuary petition’s organizers have not yet officially presented the document to the administration, according to media representatives.

“We are still seeking to meet with President Rawlings and present the petition with over two thousand signatures supporting our request,” they said.