By: Mindy Schwartz  | 

Cardozo Minority Student Alliance Successfully Petitions for Protection for Immigrant Students

On January 18th, the Minority Law Students Alliance (MLSA) of Cardozo Law School sent a petition to President Richard Joel. The petition outlined two demands by the students and faculty who signed it: that the university provide sanctuary protection to any immigrant students and faculty who may be at risk under the Trump administration's proposed immigration policies and that it increase financial aid to its immigrant students.

After the election, many Cardozo students felt nervous, even hopeless, about what the future would hold under a president whose campaign was, in the words of the petition, “explicitly xenophobic [and] anti-immigrant.” MLSA Secretary Sophia Gurule explained that a number of fellow students felt they needed to do something to alleviate their feelings of “hopelessness.” They chose to write the petition to ensure that their university address the most vulnerable members of its community under the new administration. Their actions were inspired by similar student initiatives at schools like Columbia University, Wesleyan University, Reed College, and California State University.

The MLSA petition specifically refers to those immigrants, also known as Dreamers, who fall under President Obama’s 2012 executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). To be a recipient of DACA, one must have entered the country illegally before turning 16, prior to June 2007, or been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. In addition, a recipient must also be in school, have graduated from high school, have otherwise obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed forces, and have no criminal record. Those who qualify receive a temporary reprieve from deportation and gain a work permit so that they may be lawfully employed. There are anywhere from 740,000 to 800,000 immigrants with registred DACA status, which must be renewed every two to three years.

During his campaign Trump made numerous promises concerning immigration policy, most famously - or infamously - a proposed Muslim ban and the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico. Trump pledged to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action issued by President Obama,” including DACA. Although he has yet to enact such a repeal, Trump will almost certainly not continue to renew the DACA status of Dreamers and many are still concerned that the program will be cancelled within his first 100 days in office. This would leave those with current DACA status in a dangerous limbo, unable to work legally and vulnerable to deportation.

DACA students specifically at universities are in a double bind. Because the university has the student’s legal information on file, in the event of DACA’s repeal the university could hand over information to immigration officials to aid in his or her deportation. Additionally, a student who loses his or her DACA status can longer get work authorization, barring him or her from paid student research positions, work study, or other outside jobs, and would thereby be unable to pay for basic living expenses, let alone tuition for university.

The petition addresses both of these issues. First, it demands that Yeshiva become a sanctuary campus, meaning that it will not voluntarily hand over student information without a court subpoena. Second, it demands that Yeshiva provide financial aid for such students and special stipend programs, like that of the University of Berkeley, in order for them to continue attending and paying for university.

An anonymous survey given by the MLSA identified that there are students with DACA status at Yeshiva University, although an exact number was withheld to protect respondents. “We know the DACA students are out there and we want them to know that in Yeshiva they will be safe,” said Ms. Gurule.

President Joel’s response, sent by email to the MLSA on January 25, a week after receiving the petition, does indeed give those feeling hopeless some sense of comfort. Pres. Joel wrote: “Our policy is not to disclose any private information about our students, faculty, or staff unless we are presented with a subpoena or court order. Further to this point, we will not act on behalf of federal agents and not assist in any efforts to investigate or detain students, staff or faculty unless presented with a warrant or other legal process. Moreover, if a student’s continued enrollment at our school is jeopardized by an inability to work because of loss of DACA status, we will make every effort to assist and explore options to keep the student in class.”

The MLSA views Joel’s response as an indication that he has “accepted all of our requests.” Ms. Gurule stressed Joel’s final statement as clarifying the core message behind the response in its entirety: “I hope this clarifies our position: to support all members of our community to the greatest degree possible under the law.” Given past precedent, the MLSA took the President’s email as a public statement and has publicized it and shared it with student groups.  

Although the petition was brought by Cardozo students, Ms. Gurule noted that this issue should not be seen as a localized one but rather as an issue that involves the “whole Yeshiva community.”

“We did this because we care about a deeply vulnerable community,” said Gurule, and “we wanted all of Yeshiva to care about them as well” and take action.

Beyond easing the fears of the vulnerable, Ms. Gurule pointed to the critical power of the petition and its success to show the “collective power” of students to make real change. While many students came out of the election feeling “hopeless,” Ms. Gurule hopes that the MLSA’s petition and Pres. Joel’s response will give them hope and invigorate them for the long road ahead.


Feature image credit: Letter image credit: Cardozo NLG  Twitter