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Harvard community stands up for undocumented students

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Harvard Law School student David Kim held a sign as he took part in a rally to show support for undocumented students.
Harvard Law School student David Kim held a sign as he took part in a rally to show support for undocumented students.Keith Bedford

CAMBRIDGE — More than 100 Harvard students and professors rallied Monday afternoon to urge the university to protect undocumented students in the face of a president-elect who has pledged to deport millions of immigrants.

After the rally in Harvard Yard, they delivered a petition signed by more than 4,300 members of the Harvard community to president Drew Faust asking the administration to devote more resources to undocumented students in a time of uncertainty.

The rally was the latest to take place on college campuses after last week's election of Donald Trump.

At Boston College on Monday, the unofficial student group Eradicate BC Racism organized an event that drew more than 300 people, organizers said.

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Organizers of the Harvard rally said there are at least 40 undocumented undergraduate students at the school whose families came to the United States illegally. They are protected by an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012 that allows children brought into the country illegally to study, work, and stay temporarily, even though they are undocumented.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to reverse that order, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

"We are undocumented Americans, but we are here to stay," said Laura Viera, an undocumented Harvard freshman who was born in Colombia and grew up in Connecticut.

She described how she and others traveled to the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer, trying to ensure Trump would not be elected. Now that he is heading to the White House, she said, students have to speak up and band together.

"The fact that people didn't think of this as a reality … allowed this to happen and we can't just allow these things to happen," she said.

As undocumented students and supporters linked arms on the steps of Widener Library, Viera led the crowd in a chant: "I am somebody. I deserve full equality. Right here, right now."

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Another undocumented Harvard student, Bruno Villegas, described how his parents packed him up when he was 6 and came to the United States on tourist visas from Peru. Gradually, he said, he realized they weren't going home.

His parents work long hours with low pay and no benefits in California, said Bruno, a sophomore.

"Being [at Harvard] has been one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Things are uncertain, but there is so much hope and there is so much love."

University spokeswoman Rachael Dane said Harvard is "committed to supporting undocumented students."

Dr. Loc Truong, director of diversity and inclusion at Harvard, advises undocumented students and works with offices across campus to identify and consolidate resources for them. The petition asked for an additional dean of diversity and an assistant dean to deal with undocumented students.

"We know this is a time of uncertainty and we will partner with undocumented students and all students during this uncertain time, as we share the same goal – to enable students to thrive here at Harvard College," Dane said in an e-mail.

Many professors also attended the rally, including Tim McCarthy, who teaches undergraduates as well as students at the Kennedy School of Government.

"We live in treacherous times, and these are the moments where we have to stand up and speak out," he said.

On the BC campus, students lit candles for victims of the hate crimes committed nationwide since Trump's election but also spoke out about what they said were specific injustices on their own campus.

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Many said they were bothered that BC president Father William Leahy did not send a campus-wide e-mail after the election, as some other college presidents did, to reassure students.

During the BC rally, students who feel threatened by Trump's election stood in the middle of a circle of others who linked arms and chanted "we've got your back," according to rally organizers.

"We have a president-elect who said hateful and vulgar things that devalue the humanity of many groups of people, and I think people are standing up to the fact that that's not right," Kevin Ferreira, a fourth-year graduate student in applied psychology, said after the rally.

He said he expects the activism to continue. "We can't be surprised anymore; we have to be organized."

Keith Bedford
Keith Bedford
Keith Bedford
Keith Bedford

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.