This past Monday at 4:45 p.m. in Breazzano House, an all-campus town hall meeting was held to discuss various issues surrounding President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration. The discussion was organized and coordinated by Psychology Professor Suzanne Benack. Many Union faculty and staff members, as well as students, were in attendance. The group raised several questions revolving around campus–related activities in response to the policy.
On Jan. 27, 2016, Trump released an executive order suspending entrance into the United States for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries, these being Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Exceptions to the ban include the visa categories belonging to diplomats and the United Nations.
Additionally, the policy installs a 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. Since the executive order was carried out, the ban has been subject to controversy: many have questioned whether the policy is constitutional, while the ban’s speedy implementation has left government agencies and immigration regulators unprepared and uninformed.
Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Union College Gretchel Hathaway opened the discussion, informing attendees that Union College supports national associations confronting the executive order.
She also mentioned that, “Our goal is to keep information private, meaning that the only way anyone can access to information surrounding the immigration law is through permission and is important for the safety of the people bringing the issue to our attention, and ensure we have reached out to students affected by the ban. We are really trying to keep things happening about the Muslim ban as confidential as possible.”
Outreach chair of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Uma Kalsoom ’19 also spoke during the event. Kalsoom commented on the situations faced by people of the ban’s affected nations, reminding attendees that the immigrants coming in are displaced for serious reasons, unrelated to terrorism or threatening activity.
“The people who are leaving those countries are not just leaving to steal our jobs or to plot terrorist activities – they are escaping, whether it’s from Syria or whether it’s from Yemen or any of those countries – they are escaping the horrible things happening in their home countries … While dialogue and discourse is important, activism is even more important.” Rory Bennett ’18 carried on the discussion, citing the option of Union proclaiming itself a “sanctuary campus,” but warning attendees of the repercussions it could mean for administration and especially, the students. “If we were to call ourselves a sanctuary campus, we ‘d risk losing federal aid.” Bennett also cited that such financial repercussions could affect over 50 percent of the student body, as 50 to 60 percent of Union College students rely on federal aid.
Associate Professor of History Kenneth Aslakson referred to the “State of Washington v. Trump” case, which ruled that the ban was not to go into effect. Further points were raised, including seeking financial aid from the Board of Trustees should Union label itself a sanctuary campus and enacting a “Know Your Rights,” policy.
Attendees also discussed the possibility and constitutionality of ICE agents entering campus, which Professor Andrew Feffer informed attendees is plausible but can only occur with the college’s permission. Other topics discussed included on what basis or grounds can federal or state authority withhold funding to sanctuary cities or campuses, which ultimately is determined through a series of complex systems, apart from federal or state government.
Political science major Michael Glassman ’18 proposed the possibility of Union joining a class action suit and other attendees proposed the petitioning of financially supporting international students from the affected nations to remain on campus during summer and winter breaks. The discussion concluded with plans of further meetings underway with the purpose to further develop strategies and activities to keep the campus involved and informed on the ban’s effects.