Hundreds of ND students call for support of undocumented students

Published: Nov. 16, 2016 at 7:15 PM EST
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A week since Donald Trump was officially elected the next President of the United States and colleges around the country had peaceful demonstrations supporting undocumented immigrants.

Some 450 students and faculty staged a walk-out from class Wednesday around 1:30 p.m. The students walked from all areas of campus to the main building, many with signs supporting undocumented immigrants. The election of Donald Trump has many concerned about the future of them and their families.

"I've had several instances where I faced deportation or the threat of deportation," Gargi Purohit, an undocumented Notre Dame student said. "Instances like this is why people say to keep your status on the down low but I think it's so incredibly important to share your voice now. To let them know, we are here and we're here to stay."

President-elect Trump said he would cancel every unconstitutional executive action issued by President Obama. This includes the immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

"If he takes that away, I don't know how I'll be able to financially support my mother," Purohit said. "I think there is a lot of uncertainty whether we'll be in this country whatsoever."

"It's something I think takes away the opportunity great people in this country have," Arturo Perez-Dolores, a junior at Notre Dame said. "Whether they come here first generation or second generation or anywhere. It's something I think is a shame that these people are cut down and barred from advancing anywhere and making this nation better than it already is."

Many of the students at the event were not undocumented but for Purohit, she is. She moved to the United States from India in third grade after her father passed away. She says being undocumented is harder than it sounds and going about being a documented citizen is easier said than done.

"The thing is, nine million people apply," Purohit said. "There really is no way for us to get a green card besides marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. There is no clear path. There really was not one in DACA and now that DACA is taken away, we're moving 50 steps backwards instead of moving a step forward."

Halfway through the demonstration, several students got on the steps of the main building to speak to everyone.

Jessica Pedroza, a senior at the University, raised a packet of papers in the air; the petition holding 4,372 signatures they were going to deliver to Notre Dame President, Fr. John Jenkins.

"I went up the main building steps," Pedroza said. "That's not something Notre Dame students do before graduation but I felt this was something very important. I had my family members and my friends who are undocumented on my mind while we were waiting for him. If President Jenkins declares Notre Dame a sanctuary campus, that means a lot."

"We're hopeful," Matthew Donohue, a Notre Dame junior said. "We're very optimistic. Father Jenkins spoke explicitly at a prayer service this past Monday to undocumented and DACA students on the issue. Again, we're very hopeful and looking forward to working with him."

The petition asks for the following items.

1. Declare Notre Dame to be a sanctuary campus that will actively refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations or raids.

2. Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of our students and community members to any government agency.

3. Create an undocumented student program, with a full-time director, and free on-campus access to legal counsel. Create funds to assist undocumented students (and faculty, staff and students with family members) in need.

4. Assure that all students receive a campus, classroom and community experience free of hostilities, aggressions and bullying regarding immigration status. Communicate unequivocally and repeatedly that undocumented students are full members of the Notre Dame community who will be protected to the fullest power of the administration.

5. In line with the Catholic tradition of providing sanctuary to the persecuted, identify particular spaces on campus where those who feel threatened can seek refuge and protection.

"It's the foundation of what Notre Dame is all about," Paul Browne, Notre Dame Vice President of Communications said. "Father John said it's at the heart of our mission to treat all people here with dignity regardless of immigration status, their race, their ethnicity, etc."

Browne says if President-elect Trump rescinds President Obama's executive order, the University wouldn't change its stance on undocumented students.

"We would do everything in our power to protect the undocumented students here at Notre Dame," Browne said. "That includes if the law changes."

Students at the demonstration say this isn't them turning their backs on the new President-elect, but they know they can't stay quiet.

"I know people who can't afford to give him a chance," Donohue said. "We're not declaring he's not our president. We're not burning in the streets. We're very peaceful and silent protestors. We very much look forward to putting real pressure on [Father Jenkins] to support us."

But their feelings on President-elect Trump taking away DACA go beyond selfish reasons.

"They know and are aware when Trump takes office, he can take away DACA as he's promised," Pedroza said. "They know Notre Dame is supportive but everything is still uncertain. There are fears but I've heard repeatedly from them, they're not afraid for them. They're afraid for their families. They're more concerned about their families than they are for themselves because they know Notre Dame is a relatively safe place for them and they have their support but they are concerned for their families."

Notre Dame is a safe place for undocumented immigrants. The University already does many of the things on the petition. However, Pedroza and the other supporters say the University designating itself as a sanctuary campus could go a long way.

"Notre Dame has a big name for itself," Pedroza said. "We wanted to show the entire world that we care on this campus and we call on our [school's] president as well to declare Notre Dame a sanctuary campus but also to be an example for other universities and other presidents."

To wrap up the demonstration, and show unity with the University, the entire group linked arms and sang the alma mater. Something the students with uncertain futures hope they can do for years to come.

"We're here to stay," Purohit said. "We're not going to be deported."