Taylor Crisler | Staff Writer
UNT students advocating for the university to become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants were satisfied after meeting with Smatresk after demonstrations Monday to discuss policy reforms after previously unsuccessful negotiations.
Though Smatresk cautioned activists and onlookers of the limitations to the university’s abilities to legally support undocumented students, he did say ICE agents would not be allowed on campus without obtaining a warrant.
“It’s not just a warrant that they need,” Sanctuary UNT leader and English major David Lopez said. He was one of the two representatives who met with Smatresk in his office. “It’s a whole process. They have to inform UNT police, [and] they have to inform the administration. They can’t just do a raid on campus, so I feel secure about students on that front.”
Lopez said Smatresk confirmed UNT’s willingness to provide legal representation to undocumented students in the case of detainment.
“We are already in the process of setting up a specific immigration council,” Smatresk told students on the Hurley Administration Building steps, but admitted the university had not yet secured immigration lawyers on staff.
Smatresk also agreed to call on undocumented student networks, likely a reference to the Feb. 21 arrest of UTD student Edwin Romero, who had been detained by Richardson police even after traffic charges had been cleared, despite having DACA status. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an immigration policy started by the Obama administration in June 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. Romero was released the next day thanks to efforts by the North Texas Dream team, a group of activists and lawyers who work pro bono to protect the local immigrant population.
“I am very confident that the reason why I was released from Richardson City Jail is because of all the calls that people were making demanding that I was released,” Romero told the Daily. “Maybe if I wasn’t involved, I would have fallen through the cracks.”
Romero’s story is only one of the DACA student arrests in the past month.
To expand on this political context and further pressure the administration, Sanctuary UNT organized its third rally. Members gathered at the steps of Hurley during the meeting, chanting and giving prepared speeches on various facets of their activism.
Communications studies sophomore Luis Avila spoke on the immigration enforcement program’s connection to what he called the carceral state, days after a lawsuit reached class action status that claimed as many as 60,000 immigrants detained by ICE were forced to work unpaid or for $1 a day by a for-profit detention agency.
Students were not the only participants sharing their experiences with U.S. immigration policy, with faculty members like associate anthropology professor Mariela Nunez-Janes and associate English professor Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja also stepping forward.
“In moments like this, when there is incomprehensible hate, love seems like the natural antidote to prosecution and fear,” Dr. Nuñez-Janes said. “The uncomplicated language of love that we like to cling to… in answer to hate, is a comforting lie but is not a transformative solution. It helps to blindly perpetuate the suspicion that immigrants, queer, Muslim, students that are nonconforming bodies that are part of our campus community, must be feared, and that their persecution is justifiable.”
She said students should take a stronger stance on the university’s policies.
“Please demand that the university does its job of educating,” Nuñez-Janes said. “And that it stands against the criminalization of its campus community.”
23-year-old father Daniel Ramirez Medina was arrested Feb. 10 in Des Moines, Washington despite having DACA status. Unlike Romero, Medina has been detained in a for-profit detention center ever since. Medina’s attorneys suspect officers saw Medina’s tattoo that reads “La Paz,” Spanish for “Peace,” and detained him on suspicion of gang activity.
A higher profile case has been that of 22-year-old DACA recipient Daniela Vargas, who was arrested by ICE hours after speaking to the media about her family’s deportation. Vargas was awaiting approval of her DACA renewal, and will reportedly be deported without trial to Argentina, the country she left at age 7.
These are examples of the new Trump immigration enforcement policy regime: rolling back the Priority Enforcement Program enacted under Obama in 2015.
PEP was, on paper, designed to limit ICE collaboration with police and leave ordinary immigrant workers and students out of the deportation machine. While the jury’s out on whether these reforms successfully reigned in ICE power, they were nonetheless considered a victory by the immigrant rights activists who pressured the Obama administration.
During the first six years of Obama’s previous immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, a record-setting 2.5 million immigrants were deported. Over half of all immigrants deported under Obama had no criminal record.
Dr. Anna Sampaio, Santa Clara University Chair of Ethnic Studies, gave a lecture March 3 on this continuation at UNT.
“Ultimately this would be bad enough, if we were at any stage of normalcy when it came to immigration policy,” Sampaio said. “But the reality is, over the last 30 years, immigration politics has effectively organized into a highly restrictive regime already. Increased deportations and detentions are the norm, not the exception.”
Jynn Schubert contributed to this report.
Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk speaks to students on the steps of the Hurley Administration building. Samantha Hardisty