Williams, MCLA officials fear for students' welfare after immigration order

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Officials at Williams College and MCLA are taking steps to protect students, staff and faculty "who've been placed at risk" by the executive order on immigration issued on Friday by President Donald Trump.

"If it comes to the point where we have to take legal action to protect our students from the federal government, we're prepared to do that," said MCLA President James Birge.

"Student welfare and safety is the priority," said Willliams College spokesperson Mary Dettlof. "Right now, we are working closely with our students to address their concerns and connect them with resources."

Williams College President Adam Falk and Birge released statements to the college communities in reaction to the Trump immigration order.

"The news is still fresh, and events are unfolding quickly," Falk wrote on Sunday. "But it's already clear that this action has great potential to harm students, faculty, staff and their families, both at Williams and around the world. We're doing everything we can to support those in our community who've been placed at risk."

He noted that after Trump's order, college officials worked to determine the whereabouts and safety of all its international students.

"Our staff worked quickly to ascertain whether any members of the campus community, including students from the Center for Development Economics, were outside the country when the order went into effect," Falk wrote. "I'm relieved to report that our students are all accounted for. We're still working to confirm the same for faculty and staff."

Trump said the executive order, signed Friday, was necessary to stop "radical Islamic terrorists" from coming to the U.S. It included a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, and a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. Federal judges in several states have partially stayed enforcement of the ruling pending further hearings in the case.

Both Williams College and MCLA enroll students from other countries, host exchange students, host visiting faculty and hire faculty and staff who may be from other nations, and who have family living abroad. Both schools send students to other countries for courses abroad.

"We continue to be enriched by their presence here personally, culturally and educationally," Birge told the Eagle on Monday. "It's appalling to me that up until Friday night, that was our national philosophy, and all of a sudden that's being called into question."

Of particular concern are students enrolled through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by the Obama Administration to allow children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to get their education as part of a path to citizenship, Birge noted.

"That (DACA) list could become a source to identify students and their families for deportation," he said. "These are people who complied with what one administration encouraged, and now a different administration wants to use that information to harm them. With this evolving government by executive order, I am very concerned for my students and their safety."

Dettlof said the college has already consulted with immigration attorneys regarding the DACA issue.

Falk wrote that Trump's action has already affected a significant swath of the college community.

"The order places great stress on international students, faculty and staff; those who are immigrants or children of immigrants; many Muslim members of our community; and others," he wrote. "We'll continue to assess the situation as it develops and take appropriate action to support those affected."

Trump has also reportedly threatened to cut federal funding from cities acting as sanctuary for undocumented residents, and college officials are concerned he might do the same for educational institutions seen to be protecting students and staff from the federal government.

MCLA received roughly $12 million in federal financial aid for the current fiscal year, Birge noted, and if that eventuality occurs, a variety of responses would be considered to "make a decision that is in the best interest of our students."

Dettlof said the priority at Williams College right now is the welfare of its students, staff and faculty, and that President Falk is "very concerned about this."

If federal funding becomes an issue, she added, college officials will consider a variety of options.

President Trump's "order is inconsistent with Williams' essential values," Falk wrote. "It conflicts with our nondiscrimination policy, which forbids discrimination on the basis of national origin, religion, and other identity attributes."

Birge's statement also emphasized the importance of diversity to the college community.

"As a nation, we are facing troubling times where wrong-headed policies by the new administration are counterproductive to building a diverse and welcoming society," Birge wrote. "We will continue to support all who wish to participate in activities that acknowledge the dangerous implications of these executive orders. As the president of a liberal arts institution founded upon the values of inclusivity of ideas and people, I do not support the executive order on immigration which undermines the values of our community. MCLA will continue to provide support for and advocate on behalf of our faculty, staff, and students."

Dettlof said there is also a great deal of anxiety being expressed by students, not only by those from foreign lands, but also by their friends and classmates.

"They care a lot about each other, and they will be looking for ways to help their fellow students who might be impacted." Dettlof said.

"This is a distressing time, but Williams prepares us for moments when moral courage is required," Falk concluded. "We can — and must — show the world we're capable of something greater and nobler than fear."

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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