In response to heightened anxiety among undocumented students at PCC, the Academic Senate approved a resolution on Feb. 28 affirming that the college is open to all students, regardless of their immigration status, while the Board of Trustees has yet to take a stance on the Trump administration’s immigration and mass deportation policies.
PCC faculty agreed to not release any personally identifiable student information without a judicial warrant, a subpoena or a court order unless authorized by the student or required by law.
“We are not doing anything crazy here,” graphic design professor Kristin Pilon said. “We’re just doing what we can to make our students feel safe. We’re following directions from the Chancellor’s Office in Sacramento.”
The California Community Colleges Board of Governors passed a resolution supporting the undocumented students and encouraging local community college districts to do the same.
Faculty at PCC agreed they will not cooperate with any federal effort to create a registry of individual based on religion, national origin, race or sexual orientation.
“As a practising Muslim, Trump’s actions feel very personal,” PCC student Sara Vafai said. “I don’t feel threatened, I’m a strong person, but maybe someone more vulnerable could be afraid right now.”
The resolution comes as a direct response to the student’s fears of deportation for themselves, their families and their friends.
“I have an undocumented friend studying in this school and she’s afraid to be revealed,” said PCC student Benjamin Purnell. “She’s been living here with her family for such a long time.”
On Nov. 30, 2016, the Associated Students at PCC passed a resolution in support of providing a safe environment for students in distress because of their immigrant status or national origin. PCC students, among which 900 self-identified undocumented immigrants, have been waiting since then for a similar formal statement from their educators and top administrators– specifically, the board of trustees.
“The students did it, the faculty did it,” Pilon said. “Now if the Board does it, it would [be] more of an official policy.”
English professor Katherine Kottaras made a speech before voting began urging faculty to pass the resolution. She stressed how the immigrants of PCC’s student body play a central role on campus and recalled her own father’s journey, escaping a war in Greece and finding his way to the United States. She reminded everybody in the room that there are two things no one can take away from the undocumented students: their “desire for knowledge, and a better life.”
“My heart is in this,” Kottaras said.
Both Kottaras and Pilon said that students told their colleagues they were worried about enrolling again in class for the spring.
“It’s really difficult for them,” Pilon said. “They don’t know if someone is walking through the door and we don’t have a protocol.”
Faculty decided that any requests by immigration and custom enforcement (ICE) agents for information regarding a student will be initially denied and immediately forwarded to the president and general counsel, but a more detailed procedure and a step by step guide about what to do is in the making.
“Generally, if campus police comes to the door and asks for someone, we want to be helpful and cooperative because we represent the system. But right now we might not want to do that,” Pilon said. “We don’t know what they’re asking, we don’t know what that means.”
Nowhere in the resolution does the term “sanctuary” appear. The expression has been used to define school campuses or cities that are resisting Trump’s administration mass deportation methods. Threats of withdrawing federal funds for entities that define themselves as such have recently been made, even though the term doesn’t have a specific legal meaning.
“It’s too loaded,” Pilon said. “It might suggest we are going to hide people, like churches, and we are not going to do that sort of thing. If the police has a warrant we have to turn somebody over because that is the legal requirement.”
It’s now up to the Board of Trustee to decide if they will produce a formal statement regarding this vulnerable group of students.
Contacted by the Courier, president Rajen Vurdien said he already sent an email to the PCC student body back in November, reassuring the administration’s dedication to providing access to education to all its students.
When asked if the Board’s members are feeling eager to make more of a formal stand on such a fundamental issue, Vurdien said they will “take a look” at the Academic Senate’s resolution at their next meeting on March 22.
“I hope they follow suit,” Pilon said. “We are not asking anything illegal to be done. We’re just complying with the law.”