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November 20, 2016

Over 1,000 Cornellians Petition University to Become Sanctuary for Undocumented Students

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As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 1,500 students, faculty and alumni have signed a letter — publicized Friday at 4 p.m. — demanding that the University’s administration make Cornell a “sanctuary” for undocumented students.

Citing the University’s “any person, any study” motto, the letter’s authors expressed concerns for students’ safety in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, saying Cornell has a responsibility to “maintain an environment in which all of our students can learn without fear.” The president-elect has repeatedly vowed to take action to deport millions of immigrants.

“We ask that you honor Ithaca’s tradition of being a place of sanctuary as well as Cornell’s historical roots in the abolition movement, by making an unequivocal statement of support for undocumented persons and their families,” the letter says.

The letter — drafted by over 20 Cornell faculty and staff members with the support of many others — was written after faculty expressed concerns about “disturbing developments” in rhetoric toward marginalized groups after the election, according to Prof. María Cristina García, history and Latino/a studies, one of three media contact representatives for the letter.

Faculty held a meeting last week to discuss “how we might respond as private citizens and as faculty,” García said.

“The letter is an immediate response to convey to our students and colleagues that we care — and that they are not alone,” she said. “Over the next months — and years — we will have other meetings to discuss what we can do to protect the safety, privacy and intellectual freedom of our students and colleagues.”

The letter asks the administration to release a statement denouncing violence and hate speech directed at immigrants, as well as provide legal and counseling services for Cornellians affected by new government policies.

The document also requests that the University guarantee funding for undocumented and international students, raising concerns about Trump’s promise to eliminate executive actions like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a policy enacted by President Barack Obama that allows immigrants who came to the country as children to live and work in the United States.

Finally, the letter asks the administration to make the campus a space safe from U.S. immigration officials and refrain from releasing “information that can make students vulnerable.”

“We cannot evade our responsibility to the present and the future,” the letter continues. “We ask you to stand on the right side of history.”

García said faculty were “not surprised” at the overwhelming support the letter has received from Cornellians.

“We expect many more will sign in the days to come,” she said. “We are a caring community — Cornellians disagree about a lot of things, but we value safety and respect intellectual freedom.”

Involved faculty will meet Monday to discuss when to deliver the letter to the administration, she added.

The letter was inspired in part by the actions of several other universities — including Yale University, Tufts University and the University of California, Los Angeles — which staged walkouts and published letters last week as part of the sanctuary campus movement, according to García.

At Brown Uni­versity, a similar movement was blocked when administrators responded to a request for the university to become a sanctuary, saying that the college would not have the legal authority to protect undocumented students or defy federal mandates.

“While we wish we could offer absolute protection to members of our community who are threatened by possible changes in policy, it would be irresponsible to promise protections that we cannot legally deliver,” the university’s president and provost wrote.