Citing fears for immigrants, Muslims and other groups, some UNC-Chapel Hill students plan to walk out of class on the day Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States.
Several student activist groups will join together for the demonstration, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at South Building, the headquarters of the university’s top administrators. They want the university to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” that would promise to protect students from deportation regardless of their citizenship status.
The protest comes on Inauguration Day, as speculation builds that Trump will take a number of executive actions, including the possible rollback of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order. The 2012 policy, known as DACA, authorized temporary resident status to students and workers who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Hundreds of thousands are covered by the policy, and their information is on record with the federal government.
One of them is Rubi Franco Quiroz, 20, a junior who was raised in Chapel Hill but who was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 6.
Quiroz, an organizer of Friday’s demonstration, said she views it less as a political protest and more of a gathering to show support to concerned students.
“We can’t change the outcome of the election,” she said, “but we can definitely make sure that all of the UNC administrators, faculty and the facility itself brings in resources for everyone who feels like we are being attacked or who’s afraid.”
Quiroz said organizers want to meet with UNC President Margaret Spellings to discuss the issues.
In November, college presidents from around the country signed a statement supporting the DACA program, including UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.
Some university leaders have said they will protect their students by not disclosing information readily to immigration enforcement authorities; a few have embraced the notion of being a “sanctuary” campus. But most have expressed support for their students without using the politically dicey term “sanctuary.”
I know what it feels like to be unable to concentrate in classrooms and participate fully in campus life due to the overwhelming weight of fear.
Barbara Sostaita, a UNC doctoral student in religious studies
In a letter to the campus last month, Folt wrote that the university “must comply with all federal and state laws, including regulations that address immigration, and this is consistent with the vast majority of public and private higher education institutions across our nation. Moreover, North Carolina law prohibits both counties and towns from adopting sanctuary-type protections.”
But, she said, the university would protect students’ privacy rights, including immigration status, which is covered under federal student privacy law. She added that the UNC police department does not gather information about citizenship status, and only makes such inquiries about those under a felony criminal investigation.
Last week, Barbara Sostaita, a doctoral student in religious studies at UNC, said Folt’s promise to protect privacy rights wasn’t enough. She appealed to the UNC system’s Board of Governors to take proactive steps to ensure the safety of students.
“We cannot afford to wait and see what happens,” said Sostaita, who was undocumented until the age of 20. “I speak as someone who knows what it feels like to have your humanity questioned because of a lack of a nine-digit Social Security number. I know what it feels like to be unable to concentrate in classrooms and participate fully in campus life due to the overwhelming weight of fear.”
Raised in Winston-Salem but born in Argentina, Sostaita co-wrote a petition to UNC administrators that was signed by 3,700 faculty, staff and students.
She said she was worried about students who could become increasingly vulnerable if Trump follows through with his stated intention to end DACA.
“I finished every semester as an undergraduate student aware that it could be my last,” she said. “Despite my achievements, my future was always in jeopardy.”
Quiroz said she will probably be able to finish college at UNC. But she worries about the future of her sister, who is 14 and not covered by DACA.