Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

Interim President Hunter Rawlings speaks to the Cornell community in Statler Hall in October.

December 23, 2016

Rawlings Details University Plan to Protect Undocumented Students

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In a letter to the Cornell community Thursday, Interim President Hunter Rawlings confirmed that the University will provide Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students with financial aid, protect the privacy of their information and, if necessary, supply legal aid.

Rawlings said he signed a statement in November, along with more than 500 university presidents, showing “strong support for the DACA program.” He called his action a response to a petition signed by over 2,200 Cornellians concerned for the safety of undocumented students in the wake of the 2016 election.

Rawlings first communicated his support for DACA students in a Nov. 22 message to campus, when he said these students will continue to be “eligible for need-based financial aid meeting full demonstrated need,” and confirmed new DACA applicants to Cornell, including transfer students, will remain part of the “domestic need-blind admissions pool.”

In his most recent email, Rawlings reaffirmed that once admitted, these students will be eligible for need-based financial aid for the duration of their time at Cornell.

Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school, said graduate students with DACA status will continue to receive funding for their work for the duration indicated in their admission letters. If DACA is disbanded, graduate students — who will no longer have federal work authorization — will receive funding in the form of fellowships, Rawlings said.

Rawlings also emphasized the privacy of student information, addressing rising concerns about a possible intrusion of immigration officers on U.S. campuses. The interim president stressed that the University will “vigilantly protect the privacy of student information and records from any unauthorized or unlawful intrusion.”

“The long-standing practice of the Cornell University Police Department has been not to seek immigration status information in the course of its law enforcement activities, unless related to criminal violations or threats of violent behavior,” he said.

Cornell representatives will abide by subpoenas and warrants, but the University will not act as an “agent of the federal government” in enforcing federal immigration laws, according to Rawlings. This position demonstrates the struggle many private universities face, as they are bound to abide by federal law but may resist unwarranted investigation by its officials.

Rawlings also discussed efforts to provide legal assistance for undocumented students, referencing a Cornell Law School program that will allow undocumented students to consult a lawyer about new federal administration policies, free of charge.

“A dedicated team of law school faculty will also offer legal assistance in the form of representation for DACA students in potential deportation proceedings, should the need arise,” he said.

However, Rawlings noted that this kind of legal assistance will require funding. The group that created the petition has started to collect donations from members of the Cornell community to make a “legal representation fund,” he explained.

“Our commitment to Cornell’s founding principles is unwavering,” Rawlings said in his letter. “As is our determination to support all students in their quest to pursue their education in an environment where all individuals are respected and their voices heard.”