Statement on Recent Events Affecting Undocumented and International Students at Whitworth
Feb. 2, 2017
Dear Whitworth community,
Welcome to spring semester. I pray that Jan Term Break provided time for some rest, relaxation and/or recreation for you. The last week has brought just the opposite to many members of our community who are directly or indirectly affected by an executive order on immigration issued by the White House last week. In addition, continued uncertainty regarding the status of Whitworth's undocumented students adds to the anxiety many of our students and their families are feeling right now. Regardless of our individual political leanings, I call on members of the Whitworth community to rally around all students, staff and faculty – regardless of nationality or status – with prayer, love and support. That's the Whitworth way.
Please forgive this rather lengthy message, but I want to communicate about the recent events that have an immediate impact for various groups of students and other community members at Whitworth, and I'd like to discuss Whitworth's responses to these challenges. To assist anyone who is seeking more information and resources, Whitworth is hosting a forum titled "#WhitworthUnited: Supporting our Undocumented and International Students, Faculty and Staff," tomorrow, Feb. 3, in Robinson Teaching Theatre, from 3-5 p.m. This will be an opportunity for the Whitworth community to come together and gain information about the university's position, as well as about how to support members of our community affected by recent developments concerning immigration. An attorney from the Northwest Justice Project will provide information and answer questions. All faculty, staff and students are welcome to attend.
On Jan. 13, a group of concerned undocumented students and their allies delivered to my office a petition containing more than 1,000 signatures urging me to declare Whitworth a "sanctuary campus." The petition was generated as a result of the uncertainty that currently surrounds President Trump's unknown plans regarding President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. This executive order, still in effect, grants immigration-enforcement officials prosecutorial discretion to forego taking action against undocumented students studying at U.S. institutions of higher learning and to grant such students worker permits. During the course of the presidential campaign, and during the early days of the Trump administration, conflicting signals have been sent regarding the president's plans to extend, modify, or discontinue DACA.
Although immigration policy is complex, and faithful and thoughtful people can and do disagree about particular components of such policy, I have taken action to encourage President Trump and lawmakers to extend protections for undocumented students studying in the U.S. My highest and most sacred responsibility as president of Whitworth University is to ensure the health, welfare and safety of our current students. Whitworth has a number of undocumented students who are important and loved members of our learning community. They contribute greatly to the life and mission of the university. Simply put, they are us, and we are Whitworth. To that end, I have urged President Trump to extend the protections provided under DACA, and I have lobbied Congress to immediately pass The Bridge Act, a bipartisan effort sponsored by U.S. Senators Graham and Durbin to extend DACA protections for the next three years while Congress debates a more permanent solution. Additionally, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet personally with U.S. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, among other legislators, imploring all of them to recognize the importance and urgency of this matter. I will continue to advocate for our undocumented students' ability to remain at Whitworth and continue with their studies.
The term "sanctuary campus" is vague and highly charged. It seems to have more utility in making political statements than in ensuring any real and meaningful protection for undocumented persons. While I am not inclined to use such terminology to describe Whitworth, I am eager to implement a number of policies and practices that will contribute to our undocumented students' sense of welcome and safety in the Whitworth community.
In a meeting I had with the student leaders of this effort, we were able to begin a conversation that will continue – one that also yielded a number of things that we can do now to support our students. First, I assured them that Whitworth would not voluntarily cooperate with immigration officials or agencies, nor would we voluntarily share information regarding the details of Whitworth's undocumented students with any law-enforcement agency unless compelled by an official court order, warrant or subpoena. But outside of such compelling action, I pledged that Whitworth would work to ensure our students' current status as registered students.
In addition, I am asking various offices around the university to take actions that extend particular support to our undocumented students. These actions include, but aren't necessarily limited to, the following:
- Continue meeting with undocumented students to better understand their concerns; Identify and reach out to other vulnerable populations of students, including international students and Muslim students.
- Reaffirm institutional principles and values, underscoring policies for free expression and inclusion, expressing support for students enrolled in the DACA program, and committing to support community members as much as possible while complying with the law.
- Meet with local, state and federal elected officials and policymakers to advocate for extensions of DACA and other legislation to support undocumented students.
- Develop "Know Your Rights" documents and other materials to provide helpful information to undocumented students.
- Open a line of communication on these issues with the Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff's Department.
- Discuss these issues with Whitworth Security staff and train them in the implementation of policies.
- Train and inform faculty and staff who are likely "first points of contact" for immigration or law-enforcement officials.
- Discuss study-abroad requirements and the process to waive such requirements for students who are unable to travel.
- Provide certain legal assistance to undocumented students.
- Consider alternative employment opportunities for undocumented students who are currently on work-study, should changes be made to work authorization.
- Notify the student health and counseling center to prepare staff for the potential needs of undocumented students.
- Discuss how academic and vocational counseling should reflect various constraints to educational training paths that require certain employment-authorization documents.
As I mentioned, this is a beginning, and I look forward to continuing to work with Whitworth's undocumented students and their allies to ensure that they can finish their educational journeys at Whitworth and flourish after graduation.
As a university, we hold fast to the value that the presence of international students, staff and faculty on our campus, regardless of nationality and religion, are integral to our mission and vision to equip all members of our community to be interculturally competent global citizens. We want our current and prospective international students to know that they are welcomed and loved on our campus.
When in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, I also spoke with lawmakers about President Trump's recent executive order concerning visa entry bans from selected countries. In those conversations, I emphasized the importance that our students from these countries, as well as all of Whitworth's international students, bring to Whitworth.
Last week's executive order banned nationals from the following Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for a period of at least 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The visa ban situation is fluid and evolving rapidly as the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups including Washington state's attorney general present legal challenges to the executive order. Whitworth's administration is closely monitoring all immigration information released by the White House and other agencies so that we can determine its possible impact upon our students and support them in the most effective ways.
Students from countries named in the entry ban should not travel outside the U.S. at this time, and traveling on airlines within the U.S. may also pose some risk. They will likely not be able to reenter during the 90-day period. Please note that there is no indication at present on whether the ban will be lifted in 90 days. The executive order, as it was written, gives broad discretionary power to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to question and deny entry to any individual, regardless of his or her nationality or country of origin. While the orders are in effect, we strongly recommend that students from other countries consider delaying any unnecessary travel abroad, including to Canada, as there is no guarantee that their reentry to the U.S. will be allowed.
On all of these issues, Whitworth is in the process of developing a website with resources for our international, immigrant and undocumented students. This website will be available soon. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the staff of the International Education Center and Intercultural Student Center for information and support.
These are uncertain days. Many, including me, are confused about what the future will hold for students and community members whom we know and love dearly. Although these actions impact a relatively small group of Whitworth's community, they impact all of us by extension. George Whitworth envisioned an institution of higher learning that would open its doors "to all lovers of truth and learning." May the ways we think, pray, discuss and live out our commitments always seek to "honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity." I'm hopeful for the future because I put my hope in Christ. May we be faithful as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ to all who consider Whitworth their home.
Beck A. Taylor | President