Freshman Michel Mora felt a sense of relief when she heard President Teresa Amott’s plan to show solidarity with undocumented students. At a faculty meeting on Feb. 6, Amott announced that lawyers would be brought in to work with Knox students free of charge. This news was especially pertinent to Mora, an undocumented student herself.
Knox’s actions stem from the possibility that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy introduced by the Obama administration, will be repealed under Trump’s presidency. DACA has been used by many undocumented children to receive an education without fear of deportation.
Knox has its own law firm in Chicago with an attorney who is an immigration specialist. There are also a large number of Knox alumni who are immigration attorneys.
“We reached out to them to see if they’d be willing to conduct consultations with students for free,” Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said that the idea to bring in lawyers mainly arose from students expressing that they were scared after Trump’s inauguration. The school wanted to bring in legal experts to help put them at ease. A contact sheet containing the information of the lawyers has been drafted.
One student at Knox has already been placed in contact with a lawyer to help deal with his individual case. That particular student contacted Knox through Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantes. Cervantes is the primary liaison between undocumented Knox students and the college, and attempts to reach out to them frequently.
“Those students know, whether or not they choose to respond, that [Cervantes] is a safe person. She can connect them to people who can help their situation,” Ehrlich said.
The CIL can be used as a tool for students who need to get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible. However, attorney information will be distributed campus-wide by M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanax de Aztlan).
On Tuesday Feb. 28, M.E.Ch.A. will host an informational event about DACA. During the meeting, a lawyer representing the aforementioned firm will be present virtually. The event will educate students on what is currently happening with the act, what will be done if the act is repealed and what rights undocumented students have. Meetings will be arranged between individual students and lawyers, so that they may get to know their situation better.
“I’m glad that Knox is reaching out and getting lawyers, just in case anything gets out of hand. Now we don’t need to deal with getting our own lawyers and [paying] expensive legal fees. President Amott has been really supportive, I know she met with M.E.Ch.A. twice already,” Mora said. “Last week during the basketball game, she came up to us and informed us about how the lawyers were going to be on campus. It really showed that she cared.”
When asked to predict how many students were undocumented, Ehrlich declined to answer. She stated that Knox was going to be as cautious as possible to make sure the identities of those undocumented students were protected. That being said, Mora said that there aren’t that many undocumented students that she knows of on campus.
For Mora, speaking about her situation as an undocumented student isn’t always the easiest. Though she is very vocal about her status, she realizes that some people may react negatively. Mora wants people to push past stereotypes and recognize that most under DACA are good people trying to get an education. However, it can be hard for Mora to walk through Galesburg and see all the Trump posters, as she fears they will hate her simply due to her immigration status.
“I was never a Trump supporter. With the whole deportation stuff [Trump] said he’d only deport criminals, but a ‘dreamer’ has already been deported and there have been some ICE raids happening — it’s been pretty scary to read about,” Mora said.
Amott stated in an email on Jan. 29 that Knox will not assist any immigration authorities except when required by law.
“It’s such an uncertain time, it’s hard to speculate, but we’re pretty confident that college students are not the prime target. College students are here to do good things for themselves and for our society. Colleges are known as areas that immigration agents are encouraged not to approach,” Ehrlich said. “What we’re hearing is that students are more concerned with what will happen when they go back home, or are out and about in the community.”
M.E.Ch.A. will be collecting questions that students may have for the lawyers before the event on Feb. 28.. This way, students who are not comfortable coming out as undocumented will be able to get the information they need. However, Knox is working to create an environment where students feel comfortable reaching out about their immigration status.
“I feel like I have a really good support system with Campus Safety, people in M.E.Ch.A., people on my sports team and friends in general. The people here make it known that if you ever need help, you can find it. Knox just has that warm feeling of home,” Mora said.