By Benjamin Pontz ’20, Staff Writer
Three days after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs sent an email to the campus community pledging the college’s ongoing support for undocumented students presently protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, which the Obama administration implemented in 2012 as an exercise in prosecutorial discretion, grants certain undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors a two-year reprieve from deportation as well as eligibility for a work permit and a Social Security Number.
Trump, whose administration has not indicated whether it will continue DACA, emphasized securing the border and addressing illegal immigration during the campaign including his pledge to construct a wall between the United States and Mexico.
According to information available on the college’s website, 164 international students are presently enrolled at Gettysburg, comprising just over 6 percent of the student body. Although information specific to Gettysburg College was not available, Educators for Fair Consideration, an advocacy group for undocumented students, estimates that there are between 7000 and 13000 undocumented students attending colleges nationwide.
In December, Gettysburg released a 12-page information brief published by the American Council on Education outlining what the potential end of DACA could mean for colleges across the country. At a faculty meeting in December, Riggs pledged Gettysburg’s support for student beneficiaries of DACA.
College-funded services for DACA students include free legal advice from an immigration attorney, individualized counseling, and weekly gatherings of support. Further, Riggs states that — consistent with the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — the college will provide student records only when ordered by a subpoena or court order.
Significantly, Riggs announced that Gettysburg is committed to “meeting all educational expenses of our DACA students if they would lose financial aid due to a change in their immigration status.”
In an email to The Gettysburgian, Riggs suggested this commitment would not require a substantial financial outlay.
“Given the fact that the number of students is relatively small, we believe we could cover these additional costs from our existing budget,” she said.
Pressed on whether tuition money could be used to support students in the country illegally, Riggs emphasized that DACA students were brought to the United States as children and should be supported rather than ostracized.
“They did not choose to come here. However, this country is their home, and Gettysburg is their community. Financial aid is supported by many sources including Gettysburg Fund scholarships and the College’s endowment,” she explained.
Despite the many steps the college is taking to support such students, Riggs declined to label the college a “sanctuary campus,” as some faculty members have urged. “My focus is on action in support of our students, rather than the terminology. For some, the word sanctuary might imply protection beyond what we can legally provide, and I did not want anyone to draw any incorrect inferences about what we are able to do,” said Riggs.
“Different institutions have used this term to mean different things, creating confusion about its meaning,” Riggs explained. “What I believe is most important is that we be clear about the actions we are taking to support our DACA students, as described here.”
Piper O’Keefe ’17, president of College Democrats, applauded the college’s efforts.
“I am proud of … Gettysburg College … for [its] promise of continued support of Gettysburgians benefitting from President Obama’s DACA program,” she said in an email. “While the idea of the label of a ‘sanctuary campus’ is appealing … as long as Gettysburg acts on these promises to continue to help DACA students in the event of a repeal, a label is entirely unnecessary.”
Zachary Bartman ’18, president of College Republicans, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ultimately, Riggs seeks to provide tangible support for students who may be affected if the Trump administration were to end DACA.
Riggs stated, “These students are Gettysburgians, and we want to help them thrive and get the most out of their experience here, as we do for all Gettysburgians.”