Francisco Peralta was a student of San Diego City College where he now works as a peer mentor. He says he jumped on this job opportunity because City College had provided him with a new life.
Peralta came to the United States in 2000 undocumented. After the 2001 terrorist attack, “all things crumbled,” and immigration was nearly impossible. Then workers who were undocumented were disproportionately affected in the 2008 stock market crash. Large banks foreclosed on houses, and the construction jobs held by Peralta’s friends were unavailable.
Peralta said “I was literally flipping burgers at Burger King. In 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) opened the doors for options. There was no need to be hiding anymore. I had been without a social security number, unable to get a license [needed for commuting to work,] and lived in fear of being pulled over by the police and having my car impounded.
“When I applied for DACA, I was able to get my GED, attend City College and become a research intern in a lab at the University of California, San Diego.” He realized the Trump Administration could easily reverse the Executive Order that transformed his life. Peralta believes that “sanctuary cities and colleges show leadership against the toxic rhetoric about immigration. Trump opened his campaign saying that Mexicans bring problems, and this [hate speech] resonated from day one. People away from the border may not understand the symbolic and political leadership that being a sanctuary campus provides.”
Smith College has been reluctant to declare itself a sanctuary campus. A walk- out held by the on-campus group, Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights, and a petition from students and faculty implored President McCartney to name Smith College a “sanctuary center of higher education.” President McCartney’s response was to protect DACA, unite students who are undocumented with supportive resources and refuse to release information about students unless compelled to.
When Rachel Maddow spoke on Jan. 23, President McCartney asked, “What do you anticipate for higher education policy including DACA?”
Maddow responded, “Colleges are essentially being denounced as this un-American locus of inappropriate liberalism that is stopping our strength as a nation. Conservatives of the world need to defeat colleges of the world. That worries me a lot.
“It is not a war on any particular college but on higher education. There needs to be a mutual forgiveness and respect and a willingness to turn the other cheek between these groups that are under attack.” Her response about the vulnerability of colleges gives context for Smith’s reluctance to declare a sanctuary status. However, any actions that Smith does take to support DACA and protect students who are undocumented must be made public. The Board of Trustees will be involved in the decision in Smith’s potential sanctuary status. Transparency from the administration would show support to other colleges and cities, as well as the students who need protection.
Maddow continued: “If they move against the DACA [students,] American politics should shift into a gear that we have not seen in a long time, into a gear of bodily defense.
“This is a really, really, really aggressive time for organizing because this [protection] is something that we need to get right. I think the DACA kids may be surprised by the amount of support that DACA is going to get from people and places that they may not expect. I think that Republicans in Congress are very split on this issue, which this Administration is about to learn and to be surprised by.”
Peralta believes that he was pushed into activism by his circumstances. He is interested in neuroscience; however, his livelihood depends on DACA and the support of communities around him, such as City College, which provides funding for students who are undocumented. City College has declared itself “sanctuary” and banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from their campus. While Smith may be hesitant to act, especially now that Trump has threatened to withdraw federal funding from cities and colleges that protect undocumented persons, students at Smith need assurance that they will be supported and protected. A public statement and course of action on Smith’s end would signal local support in a national endeavor to protect undocumented persons.
While the U.S.-Mexico border becomes increasingly policed, President Trump announced that he will ban all immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In response, President McCartney encouraged students from these countries to stay in the U.S. Her Sunday evening email also said “Students are permitted to stay in the houses over spring break, and we will make arrangements for any affected international student who wishes to remain in the U.S. over the summer.” The need for sanctuary status increases as more people are targeted by Trump’s racist, unconstitutional bans on immigration and illegal deportations.