Maryland universities taking steps to safeguard undocumented students

University System of Maryland is advising institutions they may choose not to help federal immigration agents

Maryland university leaders are taking steps in advance of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump to protect undocumented students from deportation, joining a national movement that could bring the schools into confrontation with the coming administration.

Trump campaigned on promises to build a wall on the southern border, to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, to deport more undocumented immigrants, and to end the program established by President Barack Obama that has allowed some undocumented students to stay and pursue their education.

Following Trump's election, Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, urged students and faculty this week to call on lawmakers to preserve the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told students and faculty that he's working to understand options under state and federal law to make the school a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.

And Mike Lurie, a spokesman for the University System of Maryland, which includes College Park, UMBC and 10 other institutions, says the individual schools may choose not to help federal agents enforce immigration laws.

Students attending college under DACA make up less than 1 percent of the University System of Maryland population. And it is unclear that Trump would begin targeting them for deportation.

Since the election, the Republican has softened his rhetoric — while he once said he would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, he has since suggested he would focus on 2 million to 3 million who have committed crimes since arriving in the United States.

Still, Mwewa Sumbwe is worried.

The 20-year-old University of Maryland junior was brought to the United States from her native Zambia 16 years ago. Growing up in Montgomery County, she never told her friends that she was in the country illegally.

DACA allowed her to obtain a work permit as a cashier at a CVS Pharmacy, then to pay in-state tuition at the University of Maryland. The honor roll student followed her brother to College Park.

Now her future is uncertain. She worries she will be sent back.

"My fear is of arriving in a country I don't know," she said.

Loh said the University of Maryland has about 100 DACA students.

"As the state's flagship institution," he wrote to the campus community on Tuesday, "UMD is committed to reaching out and providing educational opportunities to academically qualified persons of all backgrounds and walks of life. We are an immigrant nation, one formed from many. In our democracy, we are all in it together; we have responsibilities to each other."

University presidents across the country have signed an online statement in support of DACA students. Loh, Hrabowski and the presidents of Johns Hopkins, Loyola University Maryland, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Goucher College and the University of Maryland, University College have signed, as has Robert Caret, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Students and faculty at UMBC are urging the school to take more steps: They're calling on administrators to ban immigration agents from campus, to advise campus police not to help with immigration enforcement, and to protect the records of undocumented students.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said guidelines advise that immigration enforcement should be avoided at "sensitive" locations, such as houses of worship and schools.

"DHS is committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation," spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.

DACA, established by Obama by executive action in 2012, halted deportation and granted work permits to some young immigrants who were brought to the United States before they turned 16. About 740,000 "Dreamers" have been approved for the program.

Though there was some bipartisan support for the idea of shielding young immigrants from deportation, conservatives were infuriated that Obama took measures into his own hands rather than waiting for Congress to approve a broader overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Obama countered that Congress appeared to be politically unable to act.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to reverse Obama's actions on his first day in the White House. Because he can take that step unilaterally — and because it would quickly satisfy a campaign pledge — he is expected to make good on the promise.

But what happens next is less clear: Just because the executive actions are unwound doesn't necessarily mean immigration agents will begin deporting students.

"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers," Trump told CBS News shortly after the election. "After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about who are terrific people."

As UMBC students and faculty talk about banning federal immigration enforcement agents from campus, Rep. Andy Harris says universities need to be careful.

The Baltimore County Republican sits on the House Appropriations Committee.

"If UMBC wants to potentially threaten every dollar of their federal funding — which is considerable — then they should consider proceeding with their suggested policy of defiance of federal law," Harris said. "As Congress is seeking ways to reduce the massive federal deficit, this would indeed be a risky gambit."

Proponents of tougher immigration enforcement say fears of agents raiding college campuses are misplaced, and suggested the reaction from administrators appears to be politically motivated.

"They're not going to be storming the dining hall or the library," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. "Nobody ever thought there were going to be ICE agents patrolling the street arresting every immigrant that they can find. That's kind of a cartoon version of it that Hillary Clinton wanted to promote."

But she said campuses that withhold information when ICE agents have a warrant could be making a mistake.

"Not to share information — if ICE has a warrant — that college would be ill-advised to obstruct that," she said.

The University System of Maryland will continue to comply with federal laws protecting the privacy of student records, said spokesman Mike Lurie, the system spokesman. said. Such records can include immigration status and DACA participation.

"[We] will respond as appropriate to lawfully issued subpoenas and/or court orders," he said.

About 100 students at the Johns Hopkins University gathered last week to support undocumented students. Some raised signs that read "sanctuary campus," according to the student newspaper the News-Letter.

Advocates for immigrants say the sanctuary campus movement is sending a message of solidarity at a time when there have been reports of hate speech and graffiti directed at immigrant students.

"They were living in the shadows and they were brave enough to come out of the shadows, and a lot of them have accomplished some incredible things," said Elizabeth Alex, a regional director with the advocacy group CASA. "They have a lot of questions: 'Do I go back in the shadows?" and that's the real heartbreaking part of this."

Maria Centeno, a communications major at Towson University, was brought to the United States when she was 6. Her parents began the steps for her citizenship, she said, but a lawyer's mistake left her undocumented.

DACA allowed her to obtain a permit to work, her driver's license, then in-state tuition at Towson.

"Students such as myself that had no control over the decision of being brought here should be allowed to pursue citizenship," she said. "It was not our fault. This country is our home, and it's not fair to be told that we don't belong."

Nathaly Uribe Robledo, 21, is working to raise money to finish her studies in political science or biology at UMBC. She said sanctuary campuses are a good idea.

"That definitely serves a purpose in trying to protect their students," Robledo said. "It also brings attention to the issue and shows that a lot of the population, especially the youth population in college, are very much against Trump's rhetoric."

Alex said CASA has received so many questions about Trump that they are encouraging DACA participants to attend a legal clinic in Baltimore next month.

She said many are concerned that the information they submitted to the federal government in their applications for the DACA program — including addresses — can now be used by enforcement agents.

Whether that will happen remains unclear.

"We really feel like we're in a new situation right now, an unprecedented situation," Alex said. "We don't know what, exactly, Donald Trump is going to do."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

tprudente@baltsun.com

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