Can St. Kate’s do more to protect immigrant students?

On Feb. 2, 2017, students and staff gathered in the Center for Women to stand in solidarity with Muslim students. Becky Roloff, President of St. Kate’s, was also present. She spoke out in support of all students, however, stated, “I cannot make a political statement.” The gathering was a direct show of unity amidst President Trump’s first executive order, temporarily banning refugees from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has revealed tougher laws on deportation of undocumented immigrants. The original executive order was halted by federal courts. However, on March 6,  a new order was signed, now omitting Iraq. St. Kate’s is home to a diverse population of students, including Muslims and Hispanics. President Trump’s new policies and actions have affected students; can St. Kate’s do more to protect these students?

St. Kate’s President Becky Roloff speaking at the Muslim Student Association event on February 2, 2017.

Amal Hassan, public health major ’20, was in Somalia with her mother visiting family, when the first executive order was signed. She left on Dec. 31, 2016, and returned on Feb. 1, 2017, the week after thousands of people protested at airports nationwide. Even before the order was signed, she knew something was out of place when she was stopped from boarding her flight to Somalia at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.

“The people at the bag checks told me I couldn’t go,” said Hassan. “The lady said only my mom can go to Somalia since she was born there, but that I couldn’t since I was born in Saudi Arabia.”

Hassan’s father, who had accompanied them to the airport at 3:30 a.m. to see them off, demanded to speak to a supervisor. After waiting for hours, a supervisor finally allowed them to board their flight at 6 a.m.

“They made us wait for hours and we almost missed our flight.” Hassan and her mother both had passports and airline tickets.

In Somalia, Hassan found out about the first executive order through her sister back in the U.S. Her family in Somalia was worried that Hassan and her mother might not be able to return to the U.S., despite holding U.S. passports. Hassan and her mother tried not to worry too much. They encountered no problem when returning and for this Hassan credited the protesters and activists that showed up at the airport the weekend before they returned.

“We were supposed to return Sunday the 29th but my mom got sick,” said Hassan. “I think that worked in our favor, along with the protesters showing their support at the airports.” She believes it would have been different if they had returned on Sunday.

According to PBS News, a sanctuary college is “a campus where its administration and employees protect its students from any effort of deportation.” This would include not cooperating with authorities on immigration status checks. To date, over 100 colleges across the U.S. has declared themselves sanctuary colleges. Even some churches have declared themselves as a sanctuary. Hassan feels St. Kate’s could be doing more to help protect their immigrant students.

“It would be nice if St. Kate’s [would] become a sanctuary school,” Hassan said.

President Trump’s immigration reform does not stop at the executive order. According to Minnesota Public Radio News (MPR), The Department of Homeland Security declared tougher deportation laws on Feb. 21. The new layout was signed by Secretary John Kelly, which detailed immigration deportations and border security. According to MPR News, the new rules greatly expanded those who could be considered for deportation. Under President Obama, his administration prioritized undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes. DACA students, also known as Dreamers, are exempt from deportation for now.

A Hispanic student at St. Kate’s spoke about how this has affected her. She has requested to remain anonymous, so we will call her Jane. Her uncle, and parents, are in the U.S. illegally and they are at risk for deportation. Since their future here in the U.S. is unclear, it is causing her to worry.

“These fears have interfered with my academics,” says Jane. “I [am] afraid that my family would get torn apart and I continue to feel like that. It is hard to get the image of your parents being take[n] from you but I cannot protect them from the inevitable. The best thing for me to do is focus on school and get my degree.”

Jane would like to see St. Kate’s follow suit with 100 other colleges in the U.S. and declare itself a sanctuary college. She believes it would help immigrant students feel safer because they would not have to live in fear while attending school.

“A cousin of mine could not pursue his undergraduate degree because of his illegal status, even though he was capable of doing it,” said Jane.

President Roloff’s office was first contacted on Feb. 1, in a request for an interview regarding this topic. Bryonie Moon, the office manager, responded that President Roloff “is in the midst of extensive travel.” However, President Roloff was on campus the following day and attended the Muslim Student Association event. We received the same response when we again requested an interview on March 3. This time, we were also directed to Curtis Galloway, Dean of Student Affairs. He has since responded and a meeting will be set up soon.

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