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U. Students issue petition in call to action to protect undocumented students

The DREAM Team, an immigrant rights advocacy group on campus, issued an online petition on Monday in support of undocumented students on campus.

The “Call to Action to Protect Undocumented Students at Princeton” asks signatories for their name – either individual or organization – class year, and if that individual is a student, a faculty member, or a staff member. It also asks if the signee is affiliated with the University.

At the time of publication, there were over 1,200 signatures on the petition gathered within 24 hours of the petition's release.

The petition hopes to mimic the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s with churches and synagogues, not only through the University Chapel, but by making the University itself a “sanctuary campus.” To achieve this, the petition announces a walk out Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. in front of Nassau Hall “in collaboration with over 70 campuses nationwide.”

In the opening paragraph of the petition, it affirms that signees “stand in solidarity with our undocumented students on campus and in the United States” and continues with a list of undocumented individuals of various identities such as migrant families, transgender individuals, and refugees. The paragraph also notes the various hardships individuals attempting to enter the United States face.

According to Alejandra Rincon ’18, the petition was written by about five people and edited by around a dozen others. Rincon and Maria Perales ’18 co-directed the effort.

Rincon said that members of the DREAM Team have been meeting for weeks – often over group chats, since many members were too busy to meet or are studying abroad. In the meetings, members discussed how to approach the needs of the University community in their petition and walk-out effort.

Noting that the University's informal motto is mentioned in the petition, Rincon said that it requires that the University be in service of its own students.

“I think that the most important thing that people should take away from this petition is that the [University] Chapel should be thought of as refuge for undocumented individuals and also for those in light of the recent election are scared for what the future holds for them,” DREAM Team member Soraya Morales Nuñez ’18 said.

President-elect Donald Trump said during his campaign that he planned to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico to prevent undocumented immigrants and migrants from passing into the U.S. He has also talked about a plan to deport “about 2-3 million undocumented immigrants,” according to the petition. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are about 11 million total undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States.

The petition’s response to the threat Trump poses to undocumented immigrants is, “We cannot be bystanders in the face of discrimination and hate when we pride ourselves on being ‘in the nation’s service and in the services of all humanity.’”

Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released the hate crime statistics for 2015 – the year during which the presidential campaign season began – noting that there was a surge in hate crimes overall, with the number of hate crimes directed at Muslims rising even more markedly .

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Rincon noted among the needs of undocumented students the petition seeks to address are the comments that have made people feel uncomfortable on campus. She said that the DREAM Team strongly emphasizes using the word "undocumented" instead of "illegal" to describe individuals without proper documentation for immigration, noting that some people on campus still use the word "[undocumented] even when they know people who are undocumented and know that it upsets them.”

"How does it make their peers feel when you dehumanize them?" she said. "It’s the whole thing about political correctness, and some people don’t believe in political correctness. I don’t even what to say. It’s not political correctness, it’s just the ethical thing to do. Just refer to a person as a person."

Rincon also said that members of the University community off campus have faced hardships such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the past year.

“Princeton is the number one institution in the country, and with great power comes great responsibility,” Morales Nuñez said. She also helped to edit the petition.

“There are undocumented students on campus and it should be in the interest of Princeton as a symbolic measure to show the country that we protect these kinds of people because we do have students like these within our institution,” Morales Nuñez explained.

The petition calls for changes from the University administration such as “a sanctuary campus for undocumented students and Princeton residents” and to “proclaim the Princeton University Chapel as part of the network of sanctuary churches that provide a refuge for undocumented individuals facing deportation proceedings.”

Churches as sanctuaries is a movement stemming from the 1980s. Known as the Sanctuary Movement, churches and synagogues provided refuge for individuals fleeing conflict in Central America. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “in hundreds of individual immigration hearings, lawyers for asylum applicants and INS lawyers waged a low-intensity struggle over the nature of the conflict in Central America and the rights of individual Central Americans to asylum status.”

The petition also calls for halting the classification of undocumented students as international students, removing or waiving the international tax for undocumented students, hiring someone at the Davis Center to serve undocumented students, beginning a Dean’s Fund to help cover costs for undocumented students, and “expedit[ing] the changes to the Princeton University Office of Admission website as was consulted with the Princeton DREAM Team in the past academic year.”

“We have already begun discussion with administrators to hold meetings,” Morales Nuñez said, referencing the Office of Administration, the Office of Financial Aid, and the Dean of the College.

Rincon said that some members of the DREAM Team have been meeting with administrators for almost a year, adding that the University has made some changes to their websites to offer more information to undocumented students.

Morales Nuñez also noted how the University has already taken steps to help undocumented immigrants on campus.

“Princeton, logistically, has done a lot for undocumented students,” she said. “They are need blind so Princeton looks at them [for admission] regardless of documentation.”

She also noted the numerous resources on campus available to students. Resources include information about how to study abroad for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students such as Advance Parole. The Office of International Programs also notes on their website that Director of the Davis International Center Jackie Leighton "will serve as a DACA student advocate." The Davis International Center also hosts a DACA Legal Seminar each spring and helps students cover the DACA renewal filing fees.

Additionally, the Office of Admission website notes, "Princeton’s admission and financial aid policies are the same for undocumented or DACA students as they are for all other students applying to the University for admission or financial aid."

A similar petition has appeared at over 40 other institutions, including many Ivy League schools such as Brown, Columbia, and Yale.

"There's definitely a national movement right now with schools all over the nation with petitions and a walkout," Rincon said. She emphasized that it's a movement, not just for undocumented students, but "for all those that are living in fear because of their uncertain futures."

Morales Nuñez said that the DREAM Team and other members of the activist community at the University have spread word about the petition through email and over social media channels such as Facebook.

“It’s great to see that a community cares about an issue, about this issue specifically, so much,” Morales Nuñez said about the response to the petition. “Especially after the failure of the DREAM Act in 2010 when a lot of the momentum was lost, it’s great to see how much people care about this.”

Samuel Santiago '19, a member of the DREAM Team, said that he feels connected to this issue because he emigrated from Venezuela as political refugees which granted him a path to citizenship.

Because of his "citizenship privilege . . . I have to stand up for those who are undocumented," Santiago wrote in an email."The University needs to guarantee protection for its undocumented students by meeting the demands listed on the petition. The University, as an institution of private learning, has to take a stance. They can no longer stay quiet, watching from the sidelines. That's not acceptable," Santiago wrote.

The DREAM Act was a legislative proposal that failed to pass but would have granted undocumented immigrants eventual permanent residency if they passed through a multi-phase requirement process.

According to the DREAM Team petition, the petition and walk-out are also co-hosted by the Latino Graduate Student Association, Muslim Advocates for Social Justice, Princeton Latinos y Amigos, Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization, Students for Prison Reform and Education, Asian American Students Association, Princeton Progressive Magazine, Alliance for Jewish Progressives, and Queer Graduate Caucus.