A week after Donald J. Trump’s presidential victory, over 400 students walked out of classes and gathered on Low Steps on Wednesday afternoon to demand that the University provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
They chanted, “Education, not deportation” and “What do we want? Sanctuary campus. When do we want it? Now.”
The protest followed a week in which two petitions signed by students, faculty, and alumni were circulated, calling on the University to support undocumented students financially and secure them from deportation. Trump, during the course of his campaign, repeatedly threatened to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, CC ’83, that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation and permits them to work.
The demonstrators urged the University to ban immigration officials from campus, block immigration officials from obtaining student information, and make a public statement asking the government to protect students currently under DACA as well as support a path to permanent resident status for them.
Despite increasing pressure on Columbia to address the uncertain future of these undocumented students, the University has yet to comment on what provisions it will make, if any, though a University spokesperson said that financial aid will not change for undocumented students, regardless of DACA status.
During the demonstration on Wednesday, Cesar Zamudio, CC ’20, described his personal experiences as an undocumented immigrant.
“I learned when I was eight years old that I was undocumented when my dad lost his job because he didn’t have the right paperwork to work,” Zamudio said. “It didn’t really affect me that much until I realized I wanted to go somewhere in life, because that’s why my parents came here—to give me a better life.”
Jessica Bennett, GS ’17 and organizer of the rally, said that mobilization of both undocumented migrants and citizens is necessary to effect change.
“Our people are not criminals. The law has criminalized them,” Bennett said. “We’re calling on our supporters. We’re calling on our allies. We’re calling on people who, according to the United States, have representation. That means y’all can vote. And look what the fuck that got y’all—a tangerine.”
Numerous student groups read their statements of support for the movement, including the South Asian Feminisms Alliance, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, International Socialist Organization, Columbia Queer Alliance, and Apartheid Divest. Four New York Police Department officers stood on College Walk during the demonstration.
In addition to leading the demonstration, the student group Undocumented Students Initiative also hosted a panel discussion in partnership with the Office of Multicultural Affairs on Wednesday night. Undocumented students shared their personal stories in hopes that they would help other students understand the struggles that they have faced.
“When you talk about immigrants and immigration, it isn’t just numbers. It isn’t just laws. It is people,” Genesis Garfio, CC ’17, said during the discussion. “Because yes, I can give you all the statistics. Yes, I can give you all the facts. But I want you to remember that this is not something that’s foreign to Columbia. Your fellow peers are experiencing this.”
If DACA were to be repealed, many students would lose the legal protections that they have now.
“For most students who have DACA, they don’t have any other pathway to regularize their status, so they don’t usually have access to work permits, driver’s licenses, even professional licenses,” Alyshia Galvez, CC ’95, said. Galvez is a CUNY professor who primarily researches Mexican migration in New York City.
Galvez believes that undocumented migrants have much to contribute to society, particularly those protected by DACA.
“When we look at it as a society, these are our children. These are children that were raised in our country, that were shaped by our institutions, that often are bilingual, that are well-versed and very capable navigators of our institutions and our civic life,” Galvez said. “And so it’s really unfair that, because they don’t have a social security number, they’re excluded and at risk of deportation.”
Aaron Holmes contributed reporting.