October 12, 2021

OLGUÍN | Cornell, You’re Failing Your Undocumented Students

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On Monday, Oct.4, you may have heard music playing and people chanting on your walk to class. You may have looked over and wondered just what they were chanting about. You probably saw some signs.  You might have wondered about the meaning of orange butterflies. Who knows, you might stay to talk with some of the protestors, you may even join them. A protest in front of Day Hall could be a welcome surprise on a regular school day or it could be a nuisance, disturbing your peaceful walk to class. So, maybe you just continue on your way. 

For students with precarious citizenship statuses –  a protest in front of Day Hall is not a passive annoyance, but an active assertion. An assertion of their presence, agency and lived experiences while attending our hallowed and supposedly supportive university. While some say that education is the great equalizer, it means nothing if students have to protest in response to the University’s failure to support them, acknowledge their well-being and address their institutional concerns. 

This week, I want to talk about the protest that you may have seen in front of Day Hall. The one with chants, musical instruments, loving vibes and orange butterflies.  If you didn’t get close enough to read the signs or hear the chants, here’s a bit about the protest. 

Cornell DREAM Team, a student advocacy organization for and in support of undocumented and immigrant lives, organized the Monday Oct. 4 Rally for Immigrant Rights. The rally called for a return to free Immigration Student Legal Services and for Cornell to absolve its ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), as the Cornell Law School currently holds contracts with companies that provide personal data to I.C.E. Further, they ask for Cornell to establish effective safety protocols, approved by undocumented student organizers, in case of I.C.E.’s presence on campus. In essence, students are asking Cornell to re-affirm its commitment to supporting undocumented students, instead of continuing to harbor ties to agencies and organizations that continuously instill fear and harm undocumented community members. 

So they protest. They protest with demands that assert their realities, explaining how “current and past undocumented student organizers have been subject to gaslighting, ignorance and name-calling by the Cornell University Administration”, who have called them “charity cases” to their faces. For years, Cornell DREAM Team has evoked solidarity, community and change on campus, with undocumented students and organizers, whom themselves are often first-generation, low-income students of color, disproportionately taking on the burden of advocating for their own well-being within an institution that claims to support them. 

The University has previously extended institutional support by providing legal services to all Cornell students, “from undergraduates to grad students, in immigration applications including DACA renewals and citizenship applications”. Yet this year, with the entrance of the largest freshman class of undocumented students on campus, legal services been cut. According to DREAM Team, for the first time since offering its services to undocumented students at Cornell in 2016, the clinic claims that it cannot support the increase of undocumented students on campus, due to capacity reasons. After the Rally for Immigrant Rights, the Immigration Clinic has begun accepting clients for DACA applications once again – for any students with such need. Consequently, all new undocumented students are left to find outside legal resources. 

This lack of support doesn’t happen within a vacuum, and it stands in the face of attacks on immigrants around the country and on campus, from the Biden administration’s mistreatment of Haitian migrants at the border to past acts of discrimination here on campus towards undocumented students and the Latinx community.  The institution has staggered at responses at best or been completely silent at worst –  failing to acknowledge the reality of students whose lives are upended by changing national immigration policy. Time and time again, undocumented students show out in protest to ask Cornell to listen and pay attention to their reality. A reality tied to the inequity and marginalization they experience on campus. 

Instead of accommodating the undocumented students admitted to the University, Cornell is showing an unwillingness to act – and their inaction is leaving precarious students in further jeopardy. Coming back from a pandemic and year of racial reckoning that has showcased gross inequality, student needs have been continuously ignored. 

Long story short, Cornell is failing its undocumented students. The commitment to “Any person. Any study” is irrelevant if we don’t address the alternate reality that undocumented students face on campus. The University has failed to publicly acknowledge or even address student protests on Monday Oct.4 , and has detailed no future plans to build  support for undocumented/DACA students.  As has historically been the case, students are leading this initiative, asserting their existence at Cornell to an administration that has failed to listen. 

Cornell, don’t ignore your students. Institute more student and administrative support and continuously priotize funding for better resources for undocumented students on campus. Reaffirm your commitment and support to your students and begin the work of uplifting your undocumented students through substantive change –  beginning by publicly addressing their demands

To Cornellians, listen to your undocumented peers and support them in the ways you can. Engage in immigration advocacy, and support the Cornell DREAM Team, the Anti-Detention Alliance and other immigrant advocacy groups. Next time you pass by a protest with orange butterflies, pause your music for a moment and listen to your peers.

Vanessa Olguín is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Long Story Short runs every other Friday this semester.

October 18, 2021, 4:08 p.m. — This column has been updated to better reflect the group of students eligible to receive assistant from the Cornell Law Immigration Clinic.