MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Several hundred Middlebury College students, faculty, and staff assembled in front of Old Chapel today, braving icy drizzle to participate in a demonstration of solidarity for undocumented students across the country. On a makeshift stage, and without amplification, student leaders Austin Kahn and Jessica Gutierrez implored the crowd to speak up and make their voices heard in support of undocumented members of the College community.
Gathered before the central administration building, Middlebury students joined peers at similar demonstrations at dozens of colleges and universities across the country for an event billed as “National Walkout for Sanctuary Campuses,” which aims to promote awareness of and create policies to protect undocumented students from deportation proceedings.
“An imminent Trump presidency puts undocumented members of the Middlebury College community in unprecedented risk,” Kahn told the crowd. “And the college community is responding, as you can tell by this enormous, beautiful crowd of people.”
At issue is the immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was passed by President Obama as an executive action in 2012. The order allows certain undocumented immigrants to the United States who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. DACA confers non-immigrant legal status but does not provide a path to citizenship. President-elect Trump has signaled he plans to repeal all executive actions taken by Obama, including DACA, which impacts nearly 730,000 individuals, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“We can have a voice as a cohesive group,” Gutierrez told her fellow students. “We can say, ‘Okay, this is not right. This is not right to keep criminalizing and stigmatizing what an undocumented person is, what an immigrant is.’ We definitely need to branch out, mobilize, and unite!”
In addition to several student speakers, two faculty members added their voices to the line-up. Jumping up on the table that served as a stage, Kemi Fuentes-George drew laughs then cheers when he said, “I used to be an activist, then I became a professor. Now, I gotta go back to being an activist again.” The assistant professor of political science said that many of the rights Americans enjoy, from environmental protections to reproductive freedoms, are under attack. “And we are here today because of our concern about our human rights.
“We have the opportunity to stand against the cruel program of deportations that they have said they wanted implemented starting day one,” said Fuentes-George. “These deportations will affect our students, our friends, our colleagues, employees, and people who contribute to the fabric of this society. This is not acceptable!”
Toward the end of the event, Kahn and Gutierrez together read the list of points they want the College to address, and the crowd repeated each point in unison. Representing the College administration, Provost Susan Baldridge spoke near the end of the rally, noting that her colleagues in the senior leadership were dispersed among the crowd in support and solidarity. President Laurie Patton, she said, was with the gathering in spirit, but could not attend because she was traveling.
“We share your concerns about supporting every student on our campus,” said Baldridge. “We want you to know that we’re going to take the recommendations and demands on your list, think through them, and identify what we can do to best support every member of our community.”
– Reporting by Stephen Diehl; Photos by Robert Keren