Last week, a petition — which collected over 1,000 signatures from UNM students, faculty and staff — was presented to President Bob Frank urging him to make UNM a “sanctuary campus,” in response to many undocumented students and families who are feeling particularly anxious after the results of the election.
The petition seeks to inquire about potential protection measurements UNM may take for anyone in the University community who may face heavy discrimination or potentially lose immigration status protections.
The petition also suggests “the University be committed to protecting members of its community from unfair deportation, investigation or other forms of intimidation. In addition, as we envision a safe future for our campus community, our campus must not exclude students from other local campuses, members of our city and the broader community.”
Frank responded with acceptance of the letter by acknowledging the petitioners’ concerns, stating he will review it and promised there would be discussions “with Regents, University counsel, administrators and people like you who feel passionately about encouraging a campus that protects all of our students and is free from discrimination and harassment.”
Frank said UNM will continue to utilize and encourage student record privacy policies that were implemented with the hope of allowing students to safely pursue their education, no matter their immigration status.
“Along with other universities around the nation, we are seeking to clarify what authority our institutions have to declare ourselves a ‘sanctuary’ and what such a designation would mean within the limits of applicable federal and state laws,” Frank said. ”We want all UNM students to be safe and feel embraced as part of our community.”
The petition cited a campus-wide message sent on Nov. 10, stating “the University of New Mexico is a diverse campus, and many of our students are feeling afraid and unsafe.”
Petitioners confirmed they are grateful for that message’s emphasis on compassion, respect and unity; however, they still feel it is necessary to emphasize the University’s nondiscrimination policy and mission of “creating and maintaining a community in which students and employees can learn and work together...free from all forms of disrespectful conduct, intimidation, exploitation and harassment.”
Julia Holguin-Chaparro, the undergraduate studies director in the UNM Spanish and Portuguese Department, said she identifies as Hispanic and Mexican. When she moved to the U.S. from Mexico in 2001, she used a student visa, and since 2012, she has had a TN (Trade NAFTA) visa.
She said immigration policy changes could affect her career and life.
“UNM always has been an open campus to different kinds of students,” she said, adding that the campus has still experienced a few student deportations.
In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security declared that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot target college and high school students.
This enabled UNM — along with other educational and religious institutions, hospitals and sites of public demonstration — to be a “sensitive location,” preventing ICE from entering the University unless under extraordinary circumstances.
According to the petition, students who benefit from the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals may lose their protections under a Trump presidency, along with UNM students who do not qualify for any immigration relief.
“In the past, we felt fine. We were not afraid,” Holguin-Chaparro said. “Trump said that he wants to drop all the sanctuary cities in the country, but if the people in each sanctuary place wanted to protect the people inside, they could do it. (Trump) is saying he is not supporting the things that help us to feel good, to feel protected, to feel with faith that things could be better and better. This man only produces fear and hate.”
Rafael Martínez, a graduate student and instructor in American studies and Chicano studies, said he identifies as Mexican culturally and Chicano politically.
Martinez said he currently utilizes the DACA; thus, his status as a student and instructor would be directly affected if federal policies were changed. He said the petition was initially created by several Chicano studies and American studies faculty members.
Martínez signed and co-edited the petition, he said.
“Not only for myself, but having in mind the many undocumented students who need the protection of our campus administration,” Martinez said. “Undocumented students need to hear that UNM is a safe space and that the University will stand in solidarity to ensure their protection.”
The petition states, “given the conduct and outcome of the recent presidential contest, including repeated instances of derisive and inflammatory language directed against ethnic, LGBTQIA, religious, women, people of color and other marginalized communities, we are concerned that members of our community are at heightened risk of harassment and discrimination. We condemn discrimination, marginalization and violence against any community member.”
After coordinating the delivery of the petition to Frank and being present at the delivery itself, Martínez said it was “amazing” to see there was so much support from the faculty, as there were several retired professors who also showed up for the delivery of the letter.
“This showed me and other undocumented students that faculty do care and want to ensure that UNM does the right thing in the protection of undocumented students,” he said.
Martinez said he hopes petitioners will continue to encourage Frank to pursue his recommendations to the Board of Regents, and that UNM does become a sanctuary campus.
Holguin-Chaparro said she felt Frank received the petition well.
“Normally, universities are places where people are very open to diversity and to progress: to go ahead, not to go back,” she said. “I hope the president and all people that can do something, will do it.”
Holguin-Chaparro said she signed the petition to support those who need it now.
“Maybe I cannot do anything by myself, alone, but if we are together, signing a petition, participating in meetings or protests, etc., we can be a voice that can be heard,” she said, adding that undocumented students are not at the University to “do bad things.”
Martinez said UNM being a sanctuary campus would represent a certain type of security for undocumented students.
“If undocumented students do not have to fear the collaboration between UNM administration and UNM Police with the Department of Homeland Security, then this makes it a big deal for undocumented students to feel that UNM can truly be a safe space for them,” he said.
A follow-up event will seek to foster more discussion on how to protect UNM’s undocumented students and staff, and will be held on the afternoon of Dec. 2 in Ortega Hall.
Elizabeth Sanchez is a reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.