Opinion: Chancellor Vitter: Defend DACA recipients

Posted on Sep 27 2017 - 8:00am by Allen Coon

On Sept. 5, President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era executive action protecting almost 800,000 undocumented young adults from deportation. Americans in all but name, these young immigrants pay taxes, work, serve in the military — and attend college.

Since the announcement, academic administrators across the United States have rallied around DACA recipients, defending their rights and challenging federal action.

After the presidential election, Pomona College, a private college in California, drafted the “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students,” arguing “that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded.” More than 700 college and university presidents endorsed the public statement, with many signing after the DACA decision. Our chancellor, Jeffrey Vitter, was not among the five SEC presidents supporting the statement.

Officials at the University of New Mexico and Columbia University have promised affected students pro bono legal representation, and the president of the University of Colorado vowed to work with “Colorado’s senators and representatives.”

Colleges with significant undocumented student populations have sought to provide additional financial support for DACA recipients (undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid, and most states, like Mississippi, deny undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition). And University of California President Janet Napolitano has gone so far as to sue the federal government, claiming the DACA decision “wrongly and unconstitutionally (violated) the rights of the university and its students.”

Yet all the while, our chancellor stands silent.

Our administration issued a single response regarding DACA — a Sept. 7 statement assuring community members “that (the university) will continue to do as we always have done: support all of our students,” and encouraging affected students to seek confidential support through the University Counseling Center and other relevant offices.

Although subdued, the statement is not insignificant. It is troubling, however, that Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, is the only signatory. Chancellor Vitter withheld his name.

Vitter tweets pictures with alumni and students, celebrates our R-1 research status on his “Chancellor’s Blog” and comments under Facebook posts, but he has had little to say as some University of Mississippi students — undocumented students — fear a future without DACA.

Vitter and his stillness contrast sharply with his swift response, released almost a year ago, to a faculty-authored petition and a proposed student government resolution urging the University of Mississippi to protect undocumented community members. He publicly cited a commitment “to administer and operate the university within applicable federal and state laws,” but omitted our dedication to defend the rights and safety of DACA recipients.

He assured us that the University of Mississippi will “continue to uphold our legal responsibilities,” but he has thus far failed to reaffirm an institutional respect for the dignity of each undocumented person, to promise to protect affected students to the fullest extent of the law, to celebrate the contributions of undocumented community members.

DACA — and the fate of undocumented students at the University of Mississippi — is not a partisan issue. Publicly supporting DACA students with resources and services is not political. It is an act of compassion, fairness and civility.

Chancellor Vitter, defend our undocumented students.

Allen Coon is a senior African-American studies and public policy leadership double major from Petal.