Claremont Colleges Commit to Supporting Undocumented Students

Students make signs in the Hive before the Claremont Colleges United Against Hate March on Nov. 9, 2016. (Liam Brooks • The Student Life)

Following President Donald Trump’s election and inauguration, all of the Claremont colleges have promised to support students targeted by his rhetoric and policies. On Nov. 30, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver and the Pitzer Board of Trustees declared Pitzer a sanctuary college, and Scripps College President Larissa Tiedens and the Scripps Board of Trustees followed suit on Dec. 11. 

According to their respective presidents, Scripps College and Pomona College also revised their harassment and non-discrimination policies to include protections from questions about immigration status.

“We pledge to seek opportunities to protect all members of our community within the confines of the law, especially those who are most vulnerable, from persecution and violation of their human and civil rights,” Tiedens wrote in a statement published on Scripps’s website on Dec. 11, announcing that Scripps was a “sanctuary center of higher education.”

Each of the Claremont colleges will refuse to comply with federal requests for information about students’ immigration status or permit immigration enforcement activities on campus unless legally required to comply by court order. Campus Safety officers have also been instructed not to ask anyone on campus about their immigration status according to a statement from Pomona President David Oxtoby.

In recent statements to the Pomona community, Oxtoby promised to provide emergency grants for student legal fees and has organized a pro-bono alumni legal aid network for students and their families. Oxtoby has also promised the administration will provide grants to replace work-study financial aid requirements if students' Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) work permits are revoked, as well as maintain Pomona’s policy of evaluating undocumented admissions and financial aid applicants as domestic applicants.

“Pomona is doing a lot for us and I personally appreciate it. It is going beyond what any other institution is doing,” said Maria Vides PO ’18.

College administrations are not the only body involved in aiding undocumented immigrants on campus. Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success (IDEAS), a 5C organization that helps undocumented students, is also working with the college administrations to provide resources and support for undocumented students.

IDEAS organizes weekly meetings to provide information, coping mechanisms, and stress relief to undocumented students,as well as a mentoring program and several fundraising and awareness events throughout the year. According to IDEAS co-President Daniela Hinojosa Sada PO ’19, it helps Scripps, Pitzer, and Harvey Mudd College administrators provide resources for undocumented students.
“It’s not just a club for fun, it’s also a means by which undocumented students can find out emergency information,” said Sada.

Despite the resources Pomona is providing, some undocumented students believe that the Pomona administration and community could do more to support undocumented students.

“We need qualified mental health assistance, people who have worked with undocumented students before,” instead of non-specialized mental health counselors for specifically traumatizing days, Sada said.

Vides believes that Pomona could be doing more to promote and assist student activism.

“It feels like a lot of the movements that have happened are very student-organized, and I think that there’s more that the institution could do to relieve that burden,” said Vides. “Having administrators facilitate that can make a huge difference for mental health and academic performance.”

Vides and Sada also said that allies outside of the undocumented/DACAmented community should support this community. 

“If allies have resources, whether it’s monetary, legal, mental, they should share them with their friends. And also just checking in on friends, that really helps a lot,” said Sada.

Among undocumented students, there is significant debate about whether the “sanctuary college” label is meaningful and/or helpful.

“Even if we don’t have a sanctuary name, we have all the protections of a sanctuary institution, and protections that none of these other schools have,” said Vides, about Pomona. At the same time Vides asserted, “the name can be very symbolic. To know that Pomona supports us [publicly] is very important.”

Meanwhile, Sada believes that “calling it a sanctuary institution could cause complacency.” She also fears that labeling Pomona as a sanctuary school could make it a more obvious target for ICE investigations.

According to Oxtoby, Pomona has not declared itself a sanctuary campus because “we don’t hold the same legal powers of the federal, state, and city governments, so it’s a term that offers a promise we may not be able to keep.”

On Nov. 21, Oxtoby published a letter in support of DACA, which Oliver, Tiedens, HMC President Maria Klawe, CMC President Hiram Chodosh, and 615 other college and university presidents signed. DACA program, which was implemented by an Obama executive order. DACA allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to gain renewable two-year amnesty from deportation and work permits. Trump criticized DACA on the campaign trail, sparking fear that he might eliminate it.

“DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded,” Oxtoby wrote in his letter. “Since the advent of [DACA] in 2012, we have seen the critical benefits of the program for your students, and the highly positive impacts on our institutions and communities.”

Oxtoby wrote the letter to take a strong stand in support of Pomona’s undocumented students and those at institutions across the country.

“I believe the College must take a stand when our values are put to the test,” Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL. “The impacts reach far beyond our campus so it makes sense to pursue a strategy of engagement across the country.”

Despite signing Oxtoby’s letter, Chodosh expressed some reservations about the letter’s comment.

 “I believe that the Statement’s specific advocacy for DACA may… compromise non-partisan values vital to higher education,” Chodosh wrote in an email to the CMC community.

Oxtoby traveled to Washington, D.C. with other college and university leaders meeting with members of Congress to advocate for DACA and immigrant students and support the bipartisan BRIDGE Act, which would preserve DACA for at least three years.

This week, in response to Trump’s executive order restricting immigration, Oliver, Oxtoby, Tiedens, Chodosh, and Klawe issued statements reaffirming their commitment to helping their students, promising that their respective schools would assist students in counseling resources. Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps will also help students in need find legal aid. 

“We will not back down and we will not rest. Together, our campus community can and will make a difference,” Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL.

This article was updated on Feb. 7 to reflect that the CMC Media Relations Office had responded by press time.