Students gathered for a panel discussion on sanctuary cities and immigration law in Tisch Library Room 316 on Monday night. The event was hosted by Tufts Democrats and featured six panelists who have direct ties to immigration policy and activism in the Boston area.
First to speak was Tufts Democrats President Ben Kaplan. Kaplan, a senior, introduced the panelists and mentioned the extraordinary condition of immigration law under the new presidential administration of Donald Trump.
“We have elected a president who has ideas that are so reprehensible [for immigration],” Kaplan said. “The sanctuary city issue is so clear and present in our minds.”
Sophomore Jaya Khetarpal acted as the moderator for the panel discussion. She opened the discussion by asking the panelists to discuss the concept of sanctuary cities. The term “sanctuary city,” according to The Economist, refers to a variety of policies through which cities attempt to limit the federal government’s ability to prosecute or deport undocumented immigrants.
Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson responded first, explaining that the goal of a “sanctuary city” is to make all of its residents, no matter their immigration status, feel safe and secure.
“We don’t want parents to fear that their child could be taken out of school and deported,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that fellow councilor Josh Zakim, who was also a panelist at the event, had “led the charge” in sanctuary city reform for Boston. According to WGBH News, the Boston Trust Act was written by Zakim and passed three years ago. The law essentially prevents Boston police from detaining undocumented immigrants because of their status unless they have criminal warrants.
Zakim said that undocumented immigrants in Boston should not let fear of detention or deportation prevent them from seeking help from the police if needed.
“You’re entitled to the full protection of our police department,” Zakim said.
The panelists also noted the potential that federal funding to the city could be blocked. In an August speech outlining his immigration policy, Trump said that he would cut off federal funds for sanctuary cities. If he were to follow through with that pledge, Boston could lose $250 million a year in federal funds, according to the Boston Globe.
The panelists largely balked at Trump’s threats to defund Boston.
“If they cut off the money, it’s dirty money,” Jackson said.
Patricia Montes, executive director of immigrant rights group Centro Presente, said that although immigration-related issues have taken on heightened importance since the rise of Trump, they are nothing new. Although former President Barack Obama shied away from aggressive tactics like workplace raids, his administration still deported a record number of immigrants, Montes said.
“The legacy of the Obama administration is a terrible legacy for undocumented immigrants in the United States,” she said.
There is concern that deportations will spike even higher under the new president, who has been openly hostile to undocumented immigrants, Montes added.
The panel also discussed the state of the Democratic Party as a whole. Many panelists believed that the party needed to move farther to the left to respond to the political realities of the Trump administration.
“No more playing moderates,” Jackson said. “It’s actually time to say [as a party]: ‘We love poor people, we love immigrants.'”
Montes briefly discussed the difficulty of pushing through legislation in the Massachusetts Legislature, which she said has been controlled by Democrats for the past 10 years. She lamented that the party struggled to act decisively in spite of its dominance in the state legislature.
Massachusetts State Senator James Eldridge, who was also on the panel, discussed the finer issues of legislative action, saying that change was possible, but only through dedication.
“There’s a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Eldridge said, referring to recent Women’s Marches, which saw millions of women publicly demonstrate for women’s rights and human rights on Saturday in reaction to Trump’s inauguration. “But that alone won’t make a difference.”
Eldridge argued that the only way the Democratic Party will evolve into a more progressive organization is by working for change long after the initial enthusiasm has died away. He said that people will have to work long hours and follow through if they want to change the system.
Also on the panel was Dana Fleming, assistant general counsel for Tufts. Fleming said that, in the past, she has worked with the university on its admissions policy with regard to undocumented immigrant applicants.
“We had always had a practice of admitting students regardless of their citizenship,” Fleming said.
Fleming added that, in recent years, the university has realized that undocumented students can be welcomed to Tufts without any legal conflict. In particular, Fleming referenced students who belong to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era policy that grants undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors renewable periods of protection from deportation along with documentation allowing them to work.
The issue of Tufts’ status as a “sanctuary campus” also arose. In November, hundreds of students staged a campus-wide walkout urging Tufts to become a sanctuary campus, according to a Nov. 17, 2016 Daily article.
Fleming said that while the university remains committed to protecting its undocumented student population, and while its policies mirror those of other universities who have openly declared themselves to be sanctuary campuses, Tufts has not yet made the same declaration. She said that making such a statement may threaten the safety of Tufts students by “painting a target on the back of students.”