Documenting the undocumented: Students discuss “No Blue Hen Is Illegal” petition

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Eve Lombardi/THE REVIEW
Last week, a petition titled “No Blue Hen Is Illegal” was released. In it, the document requests accommodations for the university’s undocumented students, like protections for undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, diversity training for staff and equal opportunities for university admission and financial aid.

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For undocumented students at the university, no semester is guaranteed. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an undocumented student said that without a formal accommodation policy, all interactions occur under the table.

Because undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, higher education becomes a largely out-of-pocket expense. The only hope for financial relief is state or college financial aid, which can shift unpredictably and leave student status in a precarious condition. Simple tasks like course registration become burdens, as accounts are frozen indefinitely while students await unforeseeable tuition costs. Fears of deportation obstruct the learning process, and uncertainty plagues the future.

“There’s always promises that something will change, or they’ll say they’re protecting you by not recognizing you,” the student said. “That’s frustrating because we’ve been living in the shadows for all this time, but that hasn’t made the situation any better.”

To address these concerns and offer undocumented students more security, a petition was released last week, requesting university accommodations such as protections for undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, diversity training for staff and equal opportunities for university admission and financial aid. The petition does not request that the university adopt a “sanctuary” stance.

It also demands access to on-campus emergency housing in times of increased immigration enforcement, transparent university policies offering legal assistance to students faced with detention or deportation proceedings and equal opportunities for university admission and financial aid.

The current petition, entitled “No Blue Hen Is Illegal,” stands as a revitalized effort following a failed petition last semester, which requested that the university become a “sanctuary campus,” and enumerated a series of other requests comparable to those of the current petition. After failing to receive substantive administrative attention, the petition lost traction following the end of the fall semester.

This semester’s petition, addressed to President Dennis Assanis, who has previously voiced support for undocumented students and signed several related letters, makes direct reference to the University of Delaware’s Statement of Responsibility to “respect every human being.” The petition has been disseminated via email throughout the week, sent to members of the university community who received and signed last semester’s sanctuary campus petition.

“The demands [of the petition] are very basic, they’re not asking much,” the undocumented student said. “We just want a system that recognizes the needs of undocumented students and want clarity on the university’s petition. We understand that the university thinks they’re acting in their best interests by not adopting sanctuary status, because it’s a liability protection. But if this petition doesn’t get passed then, quite frankly, I would consider the university to be xenophobic and think that it doesn’t care about its students. It would be a straight-up disregard for marginalized students.”

University spokeswoman Andrea Boyle-Tippett addressed the petition in an email statement, stating that the university “appreciates and shares our community’s concerns about undocumented student safety and wellbeing” and that it has “consistently affirmed its commitment to creating a campus atmosphere of respect and will continue to do so.” It cited policies and services that “protect and support ALL students.”

Among these policies, the statement referenced the university’s admissions decisions, university police protection and security, confidential counseling resources and privacy protections, which are provided “without regard to citizenship status.” It stated that the university will address the petition in greater detail following its formal submission.

Other protections exist through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. Also, the university does not keep a list of student citizenship status.

Adopting “sanctuary” status and implementing certain protections could result in various funding repercussions for the university. The federal and state governments may add conditions to its funding appropriations, which could work to limit allotments to the university. A perceived political position could compromise various other sources of money too, such as grants.

According to the anonymous student, who grew up in the United States, being undocumented bears a constant internal debate of whether to stand up for one’s basic human rights, or to wait, hoping for an eventual opportunity to do so safely. Being American, the student said, means active participation in the democratic process and defending human rights. But with undocumented status, being American can prove disastrous, carrying the ever-present threat of an upturned life.

Particularly as a university student — a position typically conducive to expression and activism — undocumented status leaves crucial experiences out of reach, the student said. Although optimistic about students’ abilities to recognize and support their undocumented peers, the student said that widespread indifference to issues facing undocumented students contributes to the lack of recognition.

“Undocumented immigrants are your neighbors, they’re your friends, they’re your classmates,” the student said. “There needs to be visibility, support and acceptance for things to change at this school. And it’s not that we deserve to feel safe just because we’re scholars here and have bright futures. It’s really just a human thing.”

Immigration officials recently summoned a DACA student at Rutgers for an interview, raising concerns about the future of the Obama-era protection program and the safety of undocumented students, to whom President Trump had offered vague reassurance to after his election.

One student who helped organize the current petition, freshman political science major Jessica Castro-Salinas, said that the effort behind this petition, unlike last semester’s petition, was largely student-led. The main lesson gathered from last semester was that the word “sanctuary” is too controversial for university consideration, and Castro-Salinas said that this petition carries fewer political undertones, aiming simply to ensure “basic resources” for undocumented students.

“Undocumented students are here, and they exist, and they go to class just like the rest of us,” Castro-Salinas said. “We didn’t specify a particular race or ethnicity, because this petition applies to a lot of students, more students than people actually realize.”

According to Castro-Salinas, a group of students has gathered throughout the spring semester and, through engaging with faculty members involved with last semester’s petition and drawing from immigrant’s rights groups like Cosecha, the students have worked to recognize and empower undocumented peers. Castro-Salinas said that, while personal for many like herself, whose father was undocumented for nearly 20 years, the issue touches everybody, as the denial of human rights denies the “basis of their humanity.”

Castro-Salinas said that the success of the petition depends on the support of dedicated allies — meaning anybody willing to assist, empower and recognize undocumented students and immigrants in whatever way possible. Several other campus groups were involved in discussions of the petition, such as Amnesty International, speQtrum and members of Haven.

The petition closes on Wednesday.

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