The presidents of all three colleges based in Thurston County have pledged to continue protecting students covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is at risk of being eliminated as part of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
DACA, which grants protection from deportation to children of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally, was implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012.
“Undocumented students are welcome at Evergreen,” George Bridges, president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, recently wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff that was obtained by The Olympian. “This statement is more than rhetoric.”
Even though the future of DACA is uncertain, Bridges said the college is committed to continue:
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▪ Considering admission for prospective students without regard to immigration status.
▪ Working with a state program that makes qualified undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates. Although federal policy excludes undocumented students from federal financial aid programs, students can apply for state financial help and state- and college-funded work/study programs. The Evergreen State College Foundation also offers a scholarship that is available to undocumented students.
▪ Not permitting its campus police officers to detain, question or arrest people solely because they lack documentation, or inquire about immigration status when they detain, question or interact with people. Bridges said Evergreen Police Department officers follow similar policies that were adopted for the Olympia Police Department and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which no longer hold people based solely on a detention request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
▪ Keeping undocumented students’ records confidential. “Any student record that might identify an undocumented student will be destroyed at the earliest allowable date and will be treated with the highest level of confidentiality provided under law until that time,” Bridges said.
Bridges also joined more than 600 higher education leaders in a letter urging federal lawmakers to uphold, continue and expand DACA.
“This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity,” the letter states. “America needs talent — and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”
However, Evergreen won’t become a “sanctuary campus,” which is a label that some colleges and universities have adopted around the country.
“I have chosen not to refer to Evergreen as a sanctuary because I believe doing so would convey a promise of legal protections for students that none of us can ultimately guarantee,” Bridges wrote. “Regardless, we will stand firm in supporting all of our students regardless of their immigration status to the fullest extent possible.”
The Olympia-based South Puget Sound Community College and Saint Martin’s University in Lacey aren’t being referred to as sanctuaries either, although both of their presidents signed letters in support of DACA as well.
SPSCC spokeswoman Kelly Green said the state Attorney General’s Office advised the state’s two-year colleges that they can’t legally declare themselves a sanctuary because they are part of a statewide 34-college system.
“At least here (in Washington state), none of the community and technical colleges are using that language,” Green said.
SPSCC president Tim Stokes signed a letter with other leaders from the state’s community and technical colleges, urging Trump to continue DACA, stating there already has been an “enormous investment” in DACA students’ K-12 education.
“There is no return on investment if we prevent them from entering or staying in our workforce,” the letter states, noting that there are thousands of DACA students in the state. “… These students are the children of undocumented immigrants, but, through no fault of their own, are not considered citizens. Many do not remember their homeland, have never returned, and may never have used the language of their parents’ home country.”
Roy Heynderickx, president of Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, is among 116 leaders of Catholic colleges and universities across the country who signed a letter asking for the continuation of DACA so that affected students can continue their studies without interruption.
“Undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties,” the Association of Catholic Colleges and University’s letter states. “We pledge to support these students — through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”
In a news release, Heynderickx said Saint Martin’s participation in the effort is a continuation of the private university’s tradition and mission of serving students from diverse backgrounds, particularly those who are underprivileged.
“Our Catholic Benedictine heritage demands that all are to be welcomed as Christ,” he said.