Pelton outlines protections for undocumented students

by Max Reyes / Beacon Staff • February 9, 2017

President M. Lee Pelton reiterated that the college would protect undocumented students in an email sent to the Emerson community Wednesday, but did not declare the college a sanctuary campus.

In the email, Pelton referred to a petition started by Emerson Understanding National Immigration Through Education (UNITE) urging him to make the declaration. Last fall, faculty voted to declare Emerson a sanctuary campus, showing their support for the position.

“Emerson will join other institutions of higher learning and will not willingly assist ICE agents in identifying, detaining or deporting our students,” Pelton wrote.

In an interview with the Beacon, Pelton said he was hesitant to define Emerson as a sanctuary campus because of the misguided public perception of what the term means. The petition asked, among other things, for the college to refuse to cooperate in federal investigations of undocumented students. The colleges, cities, and states that have declared themselves sanctuaries do not guarantee this protection.

A recent executive order signed by President Donald J. Trump stated that the federal government will withhold funding from sanctuary cities and other legal jurisdictions that prevent law enforcement with collaborating with customs agents. Pelton cited a need to strike a balance between supporting all students, including undocumented ones, while avoiding any measures that would jeopardize the college’s federal funding—which is used for student financial aid and research grants, and accounts for $42 million, about 18 percent of the college’s gross operating budget. Research grants fund various college projects, including the Ansin science lab.

Pelton said the college is still researching what else it can do for undocumented people at the campus. The college is looking beyond what other campuses have done.

In his email to the community, Pelton listed what Emerson has done to protect undocumented students. This includes designating an administrator to communicate with undocumented students and students protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“I want that person to be the principal contact for our daca and undocumented students,” Pelton said. “They will provide advice and counsel for those students, keep them up to date on important developments, help them understand options and rights.”

DACA allows undocumented individuals to receive a renewable two-year work permit and avoid deportation if they meet certain criteria.

Pelton said the college is still researching what else it can do for undocumented people at the campus and looking beyond what other campuses have done.

“For a student like me, it was very reassuring to read the email and see that he is an ally for us,” said a member of UNITE who is attending school under DACA. Due to her status, the Beacon has withheld her name.

Pelton also noted that Emerson students within the Boston city limits would be protected under the Boston Trust Act, which prevents Boston law enforcement from collaborating with immigration authorities except in certain circumstances.

“I think there are a few points of concern for us in his statement, in his email, that we are looking forward to discuss with him,” Chantelle Bacigalupo, vice president of UNITE and senior journalism major said. “We are looking forward to kind of talking to him and collaborating with him on these points and how we can move forward.”

There will be a town hall meeting later this month where the Emerson community can discuss the issue, Pelton wrote in the email. Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, will be the main organizer for this. She said in an email that she has no updates yet.