Students led a walkout of their classes at noon Wednesday in support of Swarthmore designating itself a “sanctuary campus.”
As the Clothier bells chimed for noon, more than 300 students, staff, and faculty gathered to stand shoulder to shoulder in front of Parrish Hall. As the crowd came together, chants of “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!" (“People united, will never be defeated!”) gave way to the powerful and at times emotional reflections and personal stories of student speakers.
Valeria Ochoa ’19, of Bristol, Pa., began her remarks with a poem she wrote about her family’s experience in the U.S. “We need Swarthmore to stand with us and keep us safe, and to affirm that we are an asset to this country — that we belong here.”
“It breaks my heart to know that there are so many people living in fear and with the uncertainty of these next four years,” added Roberto Jimenez Vargas ’18, who also spoke at the event. “They’re not ‘illegal aliens.’ They’re people. They’re our co-workers, staff, students, families, and most importantly our friends.”
Driving their concerns is Trump’s promise to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, through which more than 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children have obtained temporary relief from deportation and the right to work.
In support of DACA and those it affects, student organizers called attention to a petition, signed by more than 1,300 College community members, supporting the sanctuary campus designation.
As stated in the petition, specific actions for the College to take include:
- refusing all voluntary information sharing with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/Customs and Border Protection across all aspects of the College to the fullest extent possible under the law;
- refusing ICE physical access to all land owned or controlled by the college; and
- prohibiting campus security from inquiring about or recording an individual’s immigration status or enforcing immigration laws.
“By initiating this petition, our community members are exercising their rights and power to raise their voices for social justice—a time-honored goal and tradition at Swarthmore,” said President Valerie Smith. “We are investigating what providing sanctuary would mean for our undocumented students, and how it would actually work both legally and practically. We are also in conversation with other colleges and universities to exchange information and better understand how they are approaching this issue. We are working quickly and thoroughly to address these questions and we will certainly be in touch with our community as we learn more.”
Echoing that commitment is Director of International Student Services Jennifer Marks-Gold, whose office advises and provides resources for DACA and undocumented students.
"We strive to make students feel supported and welcomed at all times and will care, respect, and advocate for them," Marks-Gold says. "We have an open door policy so students can always utilize our office for support and resources. During this particularly difficult time, please know that our office is a safe space."
Another student, a daughter of Brazilian immigrants, shared a story of her undocumented mother’s extreme fear over a routine traffic stop.
“I felt that same despair [last] Wednesday,” says the astronomy major from Santa Cruz, Calif. “It doesn’t just affect our students but their families and anyone who cares about them.”
Around the country, similar events took place at more than 80 other colleges and universities, coordinated by Movimiento Cosecha (Harvest Movement), which advocates for humane and permanent protection and dignity of all immigrants in the U.S.
Read more about this effort in “Can a Campus Be a Sanctuary?” by Elizabeth Redden ’05 in Inside Higher Ed.
“Above all, we share the concerns of our students, as well as a commitment to our nation's diversity, and the common goal of including all of our students in our country's future,” added Smith. “We pledge to work with and support all members of our community in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.”