Conn College pledges to make campus a sanctuary for undocumented students

New London — "Moved by the very real fear and anxiety" of members of the Connecticut College community, the college president has pledged to make the campus "a sanctuary for our undocumented students and all members of this community."

Since the election of Donald Trump on Nov. 8, undocumented people and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status have been worried, given his stance on immigration issues.

Addressing concerns that she said many on campus are feeling about potential changes to U.S. immigration policy and the DACA program under the incoming Trump administration, college President Katherine Bergeron penned a letter Thursday to update students and employees about Conn's recent actions.

In the past two weeks, college deans have been meeting with undocumented and DACA students "to hear the range of their concerns and determine what we can do to help," Bergeron said.

In June 2012, the secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They also are eligible for work authorization.

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status.

The college president said Conn has brought an immigration attorney to the campus to provide information and advice to DACA students and others "to increase our collective understanding of immigration issues."

"This kind of legal consultation will be ongoing," she said.

The college president also said a fund has been started to support Conn College students "in the event that one of them should at some point end up facing immigration proceedings."

Thursday's missive was a follow-up to another letter from Bergeron, dated Nov. 18, on the same issue.

At that time she wrote, "In the past few days, many of us have been contemplating the potentially adverse changes that may come with a new administration in Washington. Recent comments made by the president-elect about his plans to revise federal immigration policy have been particularly unsettling."

She referenced a petition she had just received signed by more than a 1,000 faculty, students, staff and alumni regarding their concern for undocumented and DACA students on the campus and said that she, too, was worried.

"The threat of deportation deeply affects certain members of this community, their family members, and their friends, and for that reason it affects all of us," she wrote in the November letter. "We cannot know exactly how the future will unfold, but I am writing to confirm that the College remains steadfast in its support for our undocumented and DACA-status students — and for all students whose status might be threatened under the policies of a new administration."

The petition the president had received asked the college to declare itself a sanctuary campus, and Bergeron responded: "In light of this, I want to be clear about our commitment: we can and will use all available means to protect the rights of our students to participate fully in the benefits of a Connecticut College education — both now and in the future. This promise is in keeping with our deepest values as an institution founded on principles of equity and access."

In her latest letter to the college community, Bergeron said Conn has been and will continue to be in communication with other colleges and universities to share information about the developments underway on their campuses to assist their students.

"Similarly, we have begun establishing our own protocols to monitor developments in Washington, D.C.; and we will be reaching out to the American Council on Education and other higher education lobbies to keep apprised of developments and opportunities to have input on legislation around this issue," she wrote.

The college president said that on Nov. 21 she signed a letter, along with more than 400 other college presidents, "that expressed our support for the DACA program and our willingness to testify in Washington for its continuation."

And Conn College, she said, will protect the identity of its students.

"You should know that Connecticut College does not take immigration status into account when evaluating applications for admission, and undocumented students are viewed in the same way as domestic students in determining requests for financial aid," she wrote.

The letter continued: "Finally and most importantly, all our education records, including immigration information, are considered confidential and are never disclosed to outside parties without a subpoena. Even in the case of a subpoena, however, let me reiterate what I stated in my letter of November 18: the College can and will use all available means to defend our undocumented students now and in the future. This includes legal avenues that would allow us to contest such requests for information."

"In short, we are committed to making the Connecticut College campus a sanctuary for our undocumented students and for all members of this community," she said.

Bergeron ended by saying she has been moved by the level of compassion around this issue shown in recent weeks by students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees.

"I have also been moved by the very real fear and anxiety that members of our community have been experiencing," she continued. "It is clear that none of us knows what lies ahead. But it is important for us, in the face of this uncertainty, to remind ourselves every day of what we stand for as a community, to remain steadfast in our shared values, and to continue to stand up for what is right."

In December 2011, then-New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizo issued an executive order making New London a sanctuary city, whereby police would not inquire about an individual's immigration status or take measures against a suspected undocumented person unless a violation of federal law was being investigated.

a.baldelli@theday.com

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