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Students rallied for immigrant rights on Monday, urging the University to do more to protect its undocumented students.

October 7, 2021

Protesters Demand Legal Assistance for Undocumented Students, Call to Cut Ties With ICE in Immigration Rights Rally

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On Monday afternoon, around 40 students rallied for immigrant rights, demanding more legal services for undocumented students and an end to University contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

The rally, held in front of Day Hall, was organized by the Cornell DREAM Team, who is demanding that the University provide free immigration legal services to students, dissolve ties with ICE and provide more administrative support for undocumented students. 

Protesters carried paper monarch butterflies as an immigrants rights symbol and signs reading “End the Contracts,” “Celebrate Undocumented Joy,” and “No one is illegal on stolen land,” while chanting “power to the people, no human is illegal,” and “humanity over nationality, people over profit.” 

DREAM Team vice president Stella Linardi ’22 and DREAM Team secretary Melissa Yanez ’21 said while some of the protesters’ concerns are newer, many of them are about long-standing issues that students have been protesting for years. Yanez said she hopes the rally will make the University take action on the group’s demands.

“I don’t need a Band-Aid solution anymore,” Yanez said. “DACA itself is not a solid form of status for anyone, yet Cornell treats it like it is.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was an executive order under the Obama administration — then repealed under the Trump administration and reinstated by President Joe Biden in January 2021 — that allowed undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferment from deportation. People with temporary status through DACA are often called “dreamers,” a term from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a proposed bill facing Congress.

Currently, activists at Cornell want increased support and legal service for undocumented students to navigate a tumultous and opaque legal system. 

Linardi said she and her fellow organizers had planned the rally for two weeks — responding to the difficulties many new undocumented students especially say they have faced while trying to get legal assistance from Cornell since the semester began. 

In a letter to the University administration — written by Linardi and other undocumented students, student activists and law students — the group demanded an end to many campus ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including limiting its presence on campus.

Linardi also said that following the rally, she received an email from the Cornell Law School offering a virtual ‘DACA Renewal Clinic’ through Cornell Law School’s 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic and Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga County. 

While this service would help Linardi and other students who already have DACA status, Linardi said she and other student organizers are especially concerned for students applying for DACA status for the first time because they may not know how to navigate the complex U.S. immigration system.

But beyond calling from greater support for undocumented students from the University, according to Yanez, the rally also celebrated “undocumented joy.” Major parts of the rally involved singing parody songs targeted at the University and playing music through a speaker.

“I enjoyed just feeling the love and the support from different people because that’s what we wanted to achieve, some undocu-joy, just like a celebration,” Yanez said. “I’m glad that my peers recognized me yesterday as a DREAM Team member especially, and I look forward to seeing people who really want to support undocumented students on campus.”

Thomas Dolan grad, a member of the Law Students for Abolition, said that the crossover between the two legal research databases used by Cornell Law — LexisNexis and Westlaw — and their connection to providing data to ICE made him want to get involved in the rally. 

Dolan also said he believes that the Law School should make a statement addressing their contracts with the research databases: Dolan believes that while many students in the Law School use these services on a regular basis, they do not understand the ramifications of the data sharing the companies engage in with ICE.

“The best way to address [the issue of the data-sharing database contracts] is by working with the broader Cornell community, to call attention and call out, not only the dean of the law school but also President Pollack,” Dolan said. “That’s why [the Law Students for Abolition] specifically were looking for outside groups and the DREAM Team is really the one that got this whole thing going.”

Two law students Claire Piorkowski grad and Serene Kabir grad also got involved in the rally taking the lead on the part of the letter of demands relating to the Lexis and Westlaw data sharing with ICE. 

“I decided to become involved because I personally believe that no person, regardless of their documentation status, is ‘illegal’ while living on stolen land,” Piorkowski said, referring to the U.S.’s colonial past.

Linardi and Yanez said the DREAM team plans to expand their campaign to other Ivy League schools and the team is currently working with students at Dartmouth University. According to Yanez, collaborating with students in peer institutions has helped reduce the feeling of isolation that comes with doing advocacy work.

According to Linardi and Yanez, the University of California system has carried out many of the protocols they want to use as a model at Cornell — including a protocol in the case of ICE interactions, as well as an ICE interaction toolkit that applies to all students, faculty, staff and administration. 

Relationships with ICE extend beyond the Law School to presence on campus, a large concern for activists, who are pushing for new protocol in the case of interactions with ICE.  Linardi and Yanez hope to implement Know Your Rights training and further trainings during first-year orientation and for faculty and staff, alongside a safe house system and ICE alert notifications.  

Victor Yengle grad, a member of the Graduate Labor Organization, came to the rally to advocate for the rights of immigrants in the workplace. As a previously undocumented person, Yengle also said he felt it was important to use his privilege now as a United States citizen to support organizations fighting for their rights.

“I empathize with the struggle that many immigrant students, especially those who are undocumented, are facing,” Yengle said. “It is my personal conviction to use the privilege I have access to now as a U.S. citizen to also support organizations fighting for collective recognition.”

At the rally, many speakers expressed their discontent with Cornell’s slogan, “any person, any study” in the face of barriers undocumented students face. 

“It’s hard to see Cornell being able to cultivate an image of inclusivity and diversity amongst academic success, while also refusing to better support its marginalized student populations,” Linardi said.

Linardi and Yanez said the best way the University community can support their efforts is by showing up to their demonstrations and helping with advocacy. Yanez said that simply recognizing the efforts of undocumented peers is not enough, and said she wants people of all immigration statuses to help with advocacy work. 

“What we have achieved is incremental positive progress toward these demands,” Linardi said. “The bureaucracy of Cornell often serves to dilute student power and student input as stakeholders of their community and these policies.”

Rory Confino-Pinzon ’24 contributed reporting.