Students representing the Student Action Coalition met with Chancellor Mary Grant to deliver their demands for how they would like the school’s administration to respond to President Trump’s Executive Order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.”
The coalition’s representatives said they want UNC Asheville to make visible efforts for its undocumented students and to be a leader in North Carolina by publicly declaring it does not support this executive order and will support immigrant students.
The members of the coalition said the school publicly announcing this position could lead other schools in the UNC system to do the same, making the UNC system a precedent nationwide for combatting this executive order.
According to the coalition’s handout, “This effort is not only to show our own undocumented students that we stand with them, but to stand in solidarity with undocumented students across our state. The UNC system must lead our nation’s universities by example in this time of crisis.”
The SAC’s talking points and demands were outlined in their handout as follows:
-Not allow immigration and customs enforcement officers onto campus property without a warrant.
-Not share any student information with ICE, including immigration and citizenship status.
-Provide confidential, legal support to students with immigration law questions and issues, as well as distance-learning options for deported students to complete their degrees.
-Provide tuition support, including in-state tuition rates, to students with DACA status.
-Not allow enforcement of immigration law by campus police.
-Require training and/or distribution information on the above changes for campus staff and police.
Senior mass communication student Robin Carter was the primary spokesperson for the SAC at the meeting. Carter said the group has been in touch with other student groups around the UNC system to jumpstart the movement for state-wide solidarity against this executive order.
“We’ve been in contact with student organizations at 13 other universities across the state,” Carter said. “There are students across the state that don’t feel safe from ICE so we feel strongly that UNCA needs to be a leader in publicizing our stance against this. I feel as though UNCA has been a leader in this, but we want the administration to continue that and to be bold.”
Carter said the SAC is an activism-based group focused on multiple issues.
“The Student Action Coalition is a group of students from various other organizations that try to help each other with their various actions based on activism,” Carter said. “They work on a lot of issues apart from sanctuary, such as divestment.”
At the open meeting last Monday, members of the SAC met with Chancellor Mary Grant for a discussion in an attempt to steer the school’s public response to this executive order and its implications. Close to 40 UNCA affiliates, including students and administrators, attended the discussion. In the meeting, the SAC outlined its demands and discussed them with the chancellor, her administrators and other students.
The first two points have to do with the coalition’s concerns regarding the aspects of Trump’s executive order, which seeks to increase the prevalence and efficacy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On their handout, the coalition included section 10(b) of Trump’s executive order which states the secretary of the department of homeland security can and shall, through clause 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, authorize state and local law enforcement officials to perform the functions of “investigation, apprehension or detention of aliens” under the supervision of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and after receiving training from ICE. To enter into a 287(g) agreement with ICE, local police agencies must volunteer for the program. After a local law enforcement agency volunteers itself and signs a 287(g) agreement, its selected officers receive ICE training and deputization and can then perform duties of ICE in their community in addition, not in place of, ICE’s enforcement of immigration law.
The Immigration and Nationality Act is the country’s comprehensive set of laws around immigration passed in 1952, according to the Department of Homeland Security website. It has been added to and amended multiple times since its original inception, the largest and most significant changes occurring in 1965 and 1996.
This clause was added to the INA as a part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act which was passed in 1996.
The Department of Homeland Security currently has 287(g) agreements with 37 law enforcement agencies in 16 states. The first agreement was signed with North Carolina’s Henderson County Sheriff’s Office on June 28, 2013. The most recent was signed with Texas’ Jackson County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 26, the day after the executive order’s publication.
The coalition’s representatives said they wanted assurance from the administration that campus police would not take part in this program, as it has been reinvigorated by Trump.
According to ICE’s website, North Carolina has five county police departments cooperating with ICE through the allowances of section 287(g): Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson and Wake. Out of the 16 states with participating police departments, North Carolina has the most with five.
Grant and Eric Boyce, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Safety, said campus police will not volunteer itself to this program.
The coalition also raised questions regarding the security of information for undocumented students.
The security of information for undocumented citizens was addressed by UNCA’s Registrar, Lynne Horgan.
“FERPA protects student records. There is directory information which is able to be released without student consent as well as non-directory information which can only be released with the student’s consent. Citizen information is non-directory information,” Horgan said. “If there is ever a request for non-directory information without the student’s consent, I would work with legal counsel to review the request and as a university, we would make that call.”
Carter then asked if the school would comply if it was the federal government or ICE making the request. Grant responded the school would not comply without being compelled by legal action by the federal government.
“If someone requested that information from Lynne, she would not be in a position to give it,” Grant said. “We would tell them to come back with something legally compelling and not just a request.”
The SAC’s request for tuition support and in-state tuition for DACA status students was one of the points Grant said she can not help with.
“In-state tuition for undocumented students is beyond my direct control,” Grant said. “But it isn’t beyond my voice to say this is an important group of students and financial aid would help.”
According to the website for the University Leaders for Educational Access and Diversity, the UNC council unanimously voted to approve in-state tuition for undocumented North Carolina residents in 2013. This never came to fruition because the council does not have the authority to amend tuition rates. According to its website, ULEAD defines itself as “an online community of university leaders committed to broadening postsecondary access and support for all students, regardless of immigration status.”
Grant said the administration can not identify which students are undocumented and therefore preemptively offer legal help to them.
“We don’t know what students these federal changes are relevant to, so someone would have to identify that they might need some help and assistance,” Grant said. “Stacey Millett, our executive director for community engagement and North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness, has been identifying places in the community where there’s legal services available. If a student came forward seeking legal help, we could direct them to the right place.”
Carter said the coalition is not set on requiring the school label itself a sanctuary campus, it just wants the actions implied in that title to be carried out.
“The word ‘sanctuary’ doesn’t have to be used. The important part is protecting students,” Carter said. “We just want to take concrete action to protect our students. When it comes to undocumented immigrants, you don’t necessarily want to call too much attention to the campus because you don’t want those students to be targeted.”
Grant said a brand of that sort can lead to misinterpreted expectations which can not be met.
“Labeling us a ‘sanctuary,’ that’s branding and I’ve seen lots of branding where underneath, they’re not doing the things that they say,” Grant said. “It’s important to ask ourselves, what things are we doing that keep our community safe, that provide a safe place for creative thought to support members of our community without having to brand that mission.”
Grant said she is happy the students and administration are talking because that is what causes change and that is important, even if UNCA is not heavily affected by this executive order.
“It doesn’t matter if we have one or two or zero or 1500 undocumented students, this is something we should all be concerned about,” Grant said.
Carter said she is encouraged by the response of the administration to the coalition’s request for this open meeting.
“I feel grateful that this is the kind of university where the administration would meet with us to discuss that type of thing,” Carter said. “I think that they’re going to work with us. I don’t think they would have held that meeting if they didn’t take the situation seriously. I’m glad that we had an open dialogue. It’s a start.”