Emory Vows to Abide by Law in Protecting Undocumented Students

Emory University will comply with federal law in any measures it takes to support its undocumented students, according to a Nov. 29 University statement following a threat from State Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Cobb County to withhold state funding from Emory and any other institutions that defy the law to protect their undocumented students.

Ehrhart, who is chair of the higher education appropriations subcommittee in the Georgia House of Representatives, said he is “pleased” and encouraged by Emory’s promise to comply with federal laws, but noted that he plans to introduce legislation in January that would deny state funding from higher education institutions that do not comply with state laws.

“It’s not just about Emory, it’s about any … public or private institution in the state that obligates state taxpayer funds,” Ehrhart said. “If you’re going to overtly … enable breaking the law, then my premise … would be that you can’t obligate state funds, whether it’s sanctuary policies or any other law.”

Laura Emiko Soltis (12G), the executive director of Freedom University, an Atlanta-based organization that provides classes to undocumented students, released a statement Friday that said Emory’s Nov. 29 statement was “a positive step” but “lack[s] clear commitment to any substantive policy changes.”

Soltis called on the University to ignore Ehrhart’s threat and look back on its history during the civil rights movement, during which Emory changed its admissions policy to admit black students despite threats from the state to remove Emory’s tax-exempt status in Georgia. Soltis’  statement also asked Emory to change its admission policy to admit undocumented students who don’t have DACA status.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, state money goes to Emory for the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship and Tuition Equalization Grants, both of which are awarded to Georgia residents.

Following an initial Nov. 21 email from University President Claire E. Sterk, administrators began reviewing a petition calling for Emory to become a “sanctuary campus,” signed by more than 1,500 members and 17 organizations of the Emory community. About 25 students and administrators met Tuesday night to discuss the petition’s requests. The University plans to respond to the petition with a series of emails, Assistant Vice President for Community Suzanne Onorato said. She declined to comment on further details of the Tuesday meeting.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Thursday while lecturing a class at Emory that he believes sanctuary campuses help to reassure and “ease concern” for some. Carter added that he is proud of Sterk for her response to the petition, but did not elaborate further.

College students nationwide have called for their schools to become “sanctuary campuses” — a definition that varies widely but represents a campus that protects its undocumented students — following the presidential election of Republican Donald J. Trump. The President-elect has threatened to rescind certain executive orders from President Barack Obama, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While DACA does not confer citizenship to undocumented immigrants who qualify for the program, it grants a two-year immigration benefit that protects them from deportation and allows them to work legally in the U.S.

As of Friday, 475 university presidents and chancellors — including Sterk — had signed a Nov. 21 statement from Pomona College (Calif.) pledging support of undocumented immigrants and calling for the government to uphold DACA.

Sterk, Onorato and Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair said that they do not know how many undocumented students currently attend Emory.

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