Recent statements and executive orders (EO) by President Trump have sent the country and much of the world into turmoil in the past few weeks. Most notably was the EO that barred people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country for 60 days, as well as restricting refugees from entering the country. The legality has yet to be established so, the impact is still unclear.
What is becoming clearer is that we are living in uncertain times. Subsequently, it was revealed that Trump sought legal avenues to ban Muslims from the U.S. The order itself made no mention of banning specific religions, but due to Trump’s campaign rhetoric it is difficult to prove otherwise.
The growing opposition to the EO has been encouraging, and the recent events in Trenton have become rays of hope. In December, President Mercer joined the presidents of 15 other colleges in expressing their commitment for their undocumented students and DACA program.
On Monday, Mercer mimicked the activists of the NJ Legislature by signing a letter encouraging the federal government to reconsider the executive order on immigration.
The letter states, “The federal executive order issued January 27, 2017 aiming to protect the United States from foreign terrorists entering our country has serious and deleterious implications for our students and for our institutions, and we respectfully request the administration to reconsider its action.”
Naturally, students have consistently pressured college administration to declare their campuses “sanctuary campuses,” which would reinforce the interest of undocumented students on campus.
The term “sanctuary” has been a bit misrepresented — it is not a declaration that campuses will shield anyone without question. However, colleges have a significant amount of power to protect our undocumented and otherwise marginalized students, and they should be held accountable to utilize every aspect of that power in order to protect students and other affected community members too.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regards colleges and universities as protected zones, meaning they are not usually targeted for immigration raids. Should this change, it is imperative that Ramapo implements concrete protections to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of all students.
At the State of the College address, President Mercer conveyed Ramapo’s support for some sanctuary measures like the commitment to protect students' records under FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act).
Mercer stopped short of calling the campus a sanctuary campus. When pressed about doing more, he was hesitant.
Trump has threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools and cities that declare themself as such. Recently, however, a bill has been introduced in the NJ legislature to provide funding to self-proclaimed sanctuary cities and municipalities that have been threatened by this loss of funding, which signals that there is potentially a large support base for sanctuary campuses in the state. These signals of support should be strongly considered in the decision-making process.
President Mercer also expressed his willingness to further discuss the matter in the coming weeks, noting he “would never close the door to discussion” when pushed to divulge more.
Support for undocumented and otherwise marginalized students ought to be overt on behalf of the college as a whole. Their willingness to voice those opinions, however, is not as strong as it could be.
“Here on campus [and] in classes, people don’t want to talk about it– for me it seems like people don’t care about it,” explained student Alejandra Sanchez.
There is, however, somewhat of a light at the end of the tunnel – next Thursday evening a ‘unity rally’ is being held on campus.
Amira Rachouh, a senior, explained her view: "As a student at a public four-year liberal arts college, I expected the school to be a leader for schools in New Jersey and the area.”