The U.S. has a longstanding history of systemically alienating and endangering immigrant populations. This history is far from obsolete. To this day, the state of Georgia, Emory University and the Emory Wheel continue these erroneous practices. We must acknowledge and deconstruct the social, educational and legal barriers that devastate immigrant communities as we strive for a more equitable society.
In Georgia, the profound history of human migration and displacement continues to have resounding impacts. In October 2010, the Georgia Board of Regents passed two cornerstone policies that impact the state’s entire public university system: Policy 4.1.6 bans undocumented residential students from admission to all public universities in the state and Policy 4.3.4 prohibits undocumented residential students from receiving in-state tuition rates. Despite their significant financial contributions at the state and federal levels, these students are similarly ineligible for federal aid, grants and loans — making the dream of an accessible, public college education an insurmountable feat even to this day.
These students are deemed undesirable and unworthy of equal access given their undocumented status, thus left to bear the brunt end of an unjust educational system specifically designed to subvert them. Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are the only three states that bar undocumented students from access to public institutions and leave them with limited educational options.
As a private institution, Emory is not subject to these regulations. Yet, it was not until April 2015 that the University began admitting qualified students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) — an Obama-era temporary protection status — and providing full need-based financial aid. Two years later, the University extended its policy to undocumented students. This tremendous achievement could not have been accomplished without the Freedom at Emory chapter’s dedicated activists alongside allied faculty, staff and students over several years. Undocumented and DACA students placed their livelihoods at stake to provide educational access to future students. They persevered in their activism all while simultaneously combatting the Trump administration’s incessant efforts to undermine their livelihoods.
Yet, news outlets writ large have failed the immigrant community by publishing identifiable information that compromises the safety of students and their family members who have precarious immigration statuses. Students with temporary protections or American citizenship may belong to mixed-status families where individuals must also assume the burden and anxieties of their undocumented family members.
Instead of joining this historic fight for equity, the Wheel has upheld outdated journalistic standards that actively endanger the lives of undocumented and DACA students in the name of objectivity. There is nothing principled about this clear moral failure. Rather than seize an opportunity to redirect public attention on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abolition movement and promote harm reduction, former members of the Editorial Board opined with a certain smugness to venerate “the pursuit of truth and objectivity” while rebuking the hardworking student activists for “misunderstanding the mission of journalism itself.” Their tone was unequivocally smeared with an elitism, privilege and dissonance of its own. As stated in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.”
The Wheel’s justification demonstrates both a lack of creativity and understanding of the precariousness of one’s government identity, which has left immigrants, particularly those belonging to the undocumented and DACA community, vulnerable to the political forces around them. These communities face imminent danger at the hands of those with anti-immigrant sentiments who seek to vilify victims of a flawed immigration system, and most prominently, ICE. This government agency’s insidious detention tactics include sexual assault, kidnapping and family separation just to name a few. Ultimately, ICE has forfeited its right to impartiality — it has historically silenced and detained journalists covering these human rights violations within their facilities.
The fight for equity remains far from over. A pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients — the majority of which have lived in the U.S. for over a decade — is necessary, now more than ever. We must prioritize their protection in our advocacy.
Thus, Emory University’s leadership must communicate with state and congressional leaders and support President Joe Biden’s immigration plan. This move would not be unprecedented: in 2017, former University President Claire E. Sterk sent a letter to Congress urging their reconsideration of DACA’s rescission. We are once again asking President Gregory L. Fenves and other University leaders to move beyond symbolic platitudes. It is imperative that newly elected Senators Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and all congressional leaders — especially those of Alabama and South Carolina — receive a letter outlining the inequity of Policy 4.1.6 and 4.3.4. Such a letter must also express unilateral support for Biden’s pathway to citizenship. Emory’s plea would assist the vulnerable students nationwide and fulfill the University’s mission of creating, preserving, teaching and applying knowledge in the service of humanity.
This piece was written in collaboration with undocumented students, DACA recipients and Emory alumni who will remain anonymous to protect their identities.
Viviana Barreto (22C) is from Covington, Georgia.
This article is one part of “1963,” an investigative opinion project. Read the rest here.