This past weekend former First Lady Laura Bush wrote:
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
This spring Attorney General Sessions described a zero tolerance policy that would result in the separation of parents and children. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said in May. “The laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence,” Chief-of-Staff John Kelly told NPR. “It could be a tough deterrent—would be a tough deterrent,” he added. This week, however, in reaction to the outrage about separating families, Kirstjen Nielson, the head of Homeland Security tweeted: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” She means that the administration is “only enforcing the law.” Whatever your politics, it seems clear that the current administration has a new tactic: children are being used as human shields to dissuade people from coming to the United States for asylum or in search of a better life.
As Ms. Bush said: “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Why is this relevant to a university president? In the spring of 2016, we announced that Wesleyan would treat DACA-eligible students as we do other domestic applicants. This means that these applicants, who have spent the bulk of their lives in the US, would have their full financial needs met if they were admitted to study here. In November, 2016, we declared Wesleyan a sanctuary campus, with two basic components:
- Wesleyan will remain committed to the principles of non-discrimination, including equal protection under the law, regardless of national origin or citizenship.
- Wesleyan will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to deport our students, faculty or staff solely because of their citizenship status.
As I said at the time, “supporting these talented and deserving young people is the right thing to do, and is consistent with Wesleyan values and our commitment to equity and inclusion.” As I wrote last year, “Since our very beginnings, our country has been immeasurably strengthened by immigrants. Turning our backs on those in need today is worse than heartless.”
The heinous practices initiated by the United States government on the southern border are not consistent with our university’s values, nor our country’s. Listening to the cries of the children on the recording published this afternoon by ProPublica, I wonder what it will take for education leaders across the country to reject this viciousness.
We must stop these vile practices before they entirely erode our civic life. We in the education community depend on that life for our purpose and our practice. Let’s make our voices heard!