By Hannah Rossen
As those of you who came to Plenary are well aware, Sunday’s resolutions consisted of a controversial initiative to affirm Bryn Mawr’s support for undocumented immigrants who attend the college, as well as for those who would like to apply. Key components of the resolution included: adding an “undocumented immigrant” box to the body of the Bryn Mawr application and/or supplement, foregoing the use of E-Verify, a program that checks application materials for undocumented students and makes it impossible for them to participate in jobs on campus, creating a funding pool specifically for alumnae who would like to donate towards the tuition of undocumented students, and formalizing the college’s already extant commitment to providing support and sanctuary for undocumented immigrants within the Bryn Mawr community.
Because of the larger political ramifications of the resolution, many students went up to the Pro, Con, and Question microphones to voice their opinions or to receive more specific information about the proposed measures. While most students expressed support for the general ideology behind the resolution, there were questions as to whether the issue should be addressed at Plenary as opposed to other administrative venues. The students who sponsored the initiative, including junior Jessica Hyejin Lee, stressed the power of the students to affect the official administration and policies of the school, altering the college’s stance on the matter of immigration from the inside out, or from the bottom up.
Another concern shared by many of the students was the legality, or lack thereof of providing sanctuary, admitting, and supporting undocumented immigrants. As Hyejin Lee and the other student sponsors of the resolution emphasized, there is nothing illegal about an institution providing sanctuary for a given group within the community. In addition, E-Verify is not a service mandated by the federal government, so it is the college’s decision whether or not to use it; this decision ultimately has a direct effect on the employability of undocumented students who want to work in the dining halls, libraries, at Wyndham, or in other facilities on campus that hire students.
The college, Hyejin Lee reminded the assembled students, has the power to stand up for human rights without condoning the existing laws, which violate these rights. The current movement to support undocumented immigrants at Bryn Mawr College, and to give them fair administrative consideration during the application process, was compared to various historical battles for civil rights that have happened in the past, including those for African Americans and the right to protest during the Vietnam War. Interestingly, the college refused federal aid during the 1960’s rather than punishing the Bryn Mawr students who chose to protest against the Vietnam War. For many, this provided a positive example of the progressive reputation gained by the college within the last 60 years, despite the college’s initial social conservatism at the time of its founding in 1886.
Apart from the legality of sanctioning undocumented immigrants as students, questions were raised as to how the proposed legislation (particularly the subsection concerning funding for undocumented immigrants by alumnae) would affect the amount of aid available to documented U.S. citizens, as well as the amount afforded to international students. The students at the podium said that, if anything, the passing of the resolution and the resulting creation of a pool for the funding of undocumented students would, in fact, increase funding to the school overall. Although alumnae who gave money to the pool would be contributing specifically on the behalf of undocumented immigrants, their gifts would do nothing to hurt the financial aid received by other students, especially since undocumented immigrants cannot apply for federal funding, so all FAFSA scholarships and other government loans would still be available to documented citizens of either the U.S. or other countries.
After approximately an hour of debate and questions about the resolution, senior Julia Fahl came up to the microphone and proposed to postpone the vote on the resolution indefinitely, which would allow the students to consider the issue more fully, and to access more information about current immigration policies both inside and outside of the college community. There was much support for this idea among the students at Plenary. Although a postponement does not mandate that the SGA and the student body reconsider the resolution at the next Plenary during the fall of 2012, it does carry a certain amount of expectation that the college will, in fact, return to the issue at a later date. After continued discussion, Plenary ended with a vote (well actually, two votes, because SGA wanted to make sure that they had counted correctly) on the proposal to postpone the final vote about undocumented immigrants at Bryn Mawr College. By a clear 2/3 majority, which is required if the resolution at hand is to be officially postponed, those in attendance decided to postpone the vote. While many people felt that the political complexities of the resolution could be ironed out by giving it some more time on the back burner, I wholeheartedly disagree.
In some sense, the decision to postpone the resolution says that Bryn Mawr students do not want to be forced into making an important decision about undocumented immigrants. They would prefer to table the resolution for now, returning to it in 8 months, a year, or never. Political decisions are inherently hard to make, especially when they focus on an emotionally charged subject such as immigration policy. But this is Bryn Mawr’s version of the DREAM Act, our time to let the world know that Bryn Mawr as a student body will not tolerate discrimination against undocumented immigrants, and will not stand by while this discrimination continues.
Thinking about postponing the issue, I thought about the implications that our decision would have on the applicants for the class of 2016 and, next year, those for the class of 2017. I thought of how powerful it would be if the students could unite and say, it is high time that Bryn Mawr acknowledge its support for undocumented immigrants who want to receive an education in this country. Many of these immigrants have grown up in the United States, so it is only natural that they should want to be educated here. Other undocumented immigrants have only come to this country recently, but want the chance to participate in the rich intellectual and social culture that marks the American college, and particularly the American liberal arts college. They want to be able to live, work, and study in our country, even though they do not have a government-signed piece of paper saying that they are allowed to be here. Knowing the difficult process of becoming an American citizen, who are we to deny undocumented immigrants these rights? Who are we to neglect to address the issue right here and right now, ultimately failing to unite and say, “Enough is enough! This has to change, for the sake of human rights, for the sake of Bryn Mawr pride in human rights, and for the sake of institutional democracy?”
As is probably clear, I voted not to postpone the vote indefinitely, and was surprised and disappointed that more people did not join me in this action. I saw opposing the postponement of the vote as a confirmation that the issue of undocumented immigrants is important to me, important enough that I want to vote on it now, that I want to pass the resolution now. Sure, not everything about the resolution was entirely clear, and sure, there could be some negative effects on the college. But as Mawryters, it is our duty to ask ourselves, isn’t it better to pass this resolution and work out the kinks later, pass it as a symbolic act despite the bumpy logistical and social issues that it will drag out into open? Regardless of whether you were prepared to vote yes or no, I say that we should have voted today. I respect the opinions of my fellow Mawryters, but decided to write this piece because I cannot condone a hesitation on the part of my peers to do what I believe is the right thing. Now that I have shared my perspective on this issue, I hope to have many more enlightening, mutually respectful conversations about undocumented immigrants at Bryn Mawr College and in this country at large. In short I hope that, even though we postponed a vote, I hope we do not postpone a critically important, socially relevant dialogue that I feel needs to occur on this campus now.