Hira Humayun ’17 and Katherine Hazen ’18
Editor-in-chief and Associate Editor
In a letter to the Smith community on Feb. 7, President McCartney reaffirmed her commitment to protecting undocumented students as well as students from the seven countries affected by the Trump administration’s travel ban. This email came shortly after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that banned immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen and Sudan from entering the U.S. All over the country, international students from those banned countries were not allowed back into the U.S. to continue their education, despite holding valid student visas. Following her Nov. 28 email to the Smith community, McCartney built upon her commitment to protecting students studying under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
Tuesday’s email was followed by an email on Saturday, Feb. 11, reaffirming statements from the week prior, after a raid of deportations occurred across the nation. Dean Julianne Ohotnicky reached out to students identified as undocumented to offer the college’s support, McCartney wrote.
McCartney addressed students and faculty in her letter and aimed to address the concerns, questions and proposals raised in the recent weeks by members of the Smith community, and specifically expressed her gratitude towards the student group Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights (OUSR).
The OUSR told The Sophian, “OUSR had a meeting with Laurie Fenlason, Dwight Hamilton, Dean Ohotnicky, Donna Lisker and President McCartney last semester. We followed up twice with Laurie Fenlason to encourage the college to more firmly and fully provide support and security to undocumented students and immigrants. We are pleased with President McCartney’s expanded commitments.” OUSR’s statement went on to say, “That by no means indicates that our advocacy is over and the group is looking forward to working on projects such as scholarship funding, an emergency response team and collaborations with the Five Colleges and the national immigrant advocacy group Cosecha.”
The statement assured that there would be “equal access to institutional need-based financial aid and campus employment” for those under DACA. DACA students will be considered for admission to Smith in the same way as U.S. citizens.
As in her previous email, McCartney affirmed that the college will not take any voluntary action that would put the immigration or citizenship status of a community member at risk. In maintaining this policy, the email stated that Smith will not release information regarding a student’s citizenship or immigration status “unless legally compelled to do so,” and that if faced with a “subpoena or other imperative,” the college will seek legal counsel prior to complying with the order.
McCartney’s letter stated other campus measures, such as advising Campus Police to leave the enforcement of federal immigration laws to federal officials. The college will continue with its practice of “strictly limiting the use of eVerify,” an online system that compares information from one’s Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9 form), to Department of Homeland Security records, to verify employment authorization in the U.S. This applies to federal research contracts that offer valuable research opportunities for students and faculty, but those joining research projects will be counseled regarding the risks of eVerify, so that they can make informed decisions regarding their participation. However, this will not apply to work-study employment and other routine matters, for which eVerify will not be used.
Specifically in response to the more recent travel ban for those from the seven countries, the college will help the affected international students obtain legal counsel –as it will do for undocumented students- and financial support for immigration application fees. The statement also encouraged affected Smith employees to utilize Human Resources, the Provost’s Office, the Employee Assistance program and the Office of International Students and Scholars.
Smith will assist international students in gaining year-round housing on campus or through alumnae if international students are unable to travel back home due to the ban. McCartney reiterated the college’s commitment to supporting undocumented students by strengthening the capacities of campus resources like counseling services and Innovation Challenge grants. These grants fund projects like the identity support initiative in the Wellness Office, and the School for Social Work’s refugee–specific training for clinicians.
McCartney concluded the letter by sharing the collective actions she has joined in support of international and undocumented students. She has signed the American Council on Education (ACE) letter to the secretary of Homeland Security, which objects the travel ban, and petitions against the ban and in support of women’s issues in the U.S.
“Such actions are both symbolic and substantive;” she wrote. “I have been heartened to see the effect of citizens’ and organizations’ public actions in rolling back proposals and actions antithetical to our values as a scholarly community.”
“I am glad that the Office of International Students invited an immigration attorney to explain to us the consequences of Trump’s executive order and to give us advice. That was very helpful because the media was giving confusing information,” said Ghida El-Banna ‘17, an international student. “In terms of McCartney, I am very disappointed by her response…she avoided explicitly saying that the ban targets Muslim majority countries…This bothered me a lot because she did not specifically mention Trump’s discriminatory orders against Muslims, particularly how he described Muslims as terrorists.”
El-Banna went on to say, “This is not surprising though because our administration always shies away from admitting that Muslim students struggle or feel targeted or that Islamophobia exists in the first place. I would also have appreciated if she mentioned how Muslims contribute to Smith as students, faculty and staff. Other schools did in their emails.”