Metro

Calls to protect immigrants echo on Mass. campuses

Ana Ascencio, an Amherst College student, leads a chant during a student organized walk out protesting the immigration policies proposed by president elect Donald Trump. (CAROL LOLLIS/Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Carol Lollis/Daily Hampshire Gazette
Amherst College student Ana Ascencio lead a chant during a student organized walk out protesting the immigration policies proposed by president-elect Donald Trump.

AMHERST — More than 1,000 Massachusetts college students joined those on campuses around the country Wednesday in rallies against anti-immigration policies articulated by President-elect Donald Trump, demanding that their schools adopt policies and practices that would protect students from being deported.

As part of a movement dubbed “sanctuary campus,” more than 800 students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst chanted “Don’t give in to racist fears! Immigrants are welcome here!”

They walked into the Whitmore Administration building to deliver hundreds of signed letters to chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy asking that the state’s flagship public university “commit to protecting undocumented, refugee, and international students, workers, staff, and faculty.”

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Similar protests were held at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Tufts University, among others. The actions were part of a wave of rallies across the nation since Trump’s election.

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At UMass Amherst, Canan Cevik, president of the college’s Graduate Student Senate, told the crowd she felt the election deeply, being a woman of color from a Muslim family.

“It hurts me that not only can a white man get away with the most vulgar, sexist, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic discourses,” Cevik said. “But this very degrading and discriminatory rhetoric can apparently mobilize millions in this country and these discourses have been internalized and normalized.”

Josh Odem, a student representative to the UMass Board of Trustees, said he and other student trustees from the other UMass campuses had a conference call with Martin Meehan, president of the UMass system, asking that all of the campuses be declared a “sanctuary system.” Odem said that Meehan was receptive to the request, but that it would need to be endorsed by trustees.

Ed Blaguszewski, spokesman for Umass Amherst, said the school will work to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for students, regardless of immigration status.

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At Amherst College, about 600 students walked out of classes to join a noon protest. Some faculty took part and canceled classes at the elite liberal arts college.

Student Bryan Torres told the crowd gathered in front of the main administration building that as an undocumented immigrant his childhood was marked by a fear of deportation. He was able to obtain a driver’s license, work permit, and Social Security number under temporary federal protection known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

But many immigrants fear Trump will revoke those protections.

In a letter to college president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, students called on the school to refuse to cooperate with any efforts to remove students from campus and to renew its commitment to need-blind admissions.

Amherst spokeswoman Caroline Hanna said, “At this point, we do not know how immigration laws and enforcement may change. We do know that our commitment to the education and well-being of our students, whatever their status, is unwavering.”

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Standing at the edge of the crowd, senior Joshua Young from Colorado said he showed up out of concern for students who feel newly vulnerable.

“This is a time where especially in an institution like this, we need to make sure people aren’t beaten down, while respecting everyone’s rights,” he said

Laurie Loisel can be reached at laurieloisel@gmail.com.