A town hall meeting was held in the University of North Texas’ Union on Tuesday Jan. 31 to discuss President Donald Trump’s executive order and how that would affect the university’s immigrant student body.
The meeting also allowed students and faculty to voice their concerns amidst rumored policy changes and Trump’s travel ban, one that could currently affect almost 100 known students at UNT.
“We don’t want you to be worried,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said. “We don’t want you to be afraid. We’ll give you our best advice and always be straight with you. What we’re here for is to try to do the best we can to help you.”
Among the questions asked by students were what resources were available to help those who are unauthorized, what protocol the university would take if a student was unable to return to the university for the semester, and what positions the university would take if, in the near future, laws were established that targeted undocumented immigrants.
The panel and other university officials stated they were looking into solutions such as online courses and credit transfers internationally, possible reimbursement, and even bringing in an immigration lawyer once a month to offer legal counseling pro bono.
Many students were told to contact specific departments such as Student Affairs or International Student and Scholars Services for case-by-case specifics.
A hot topic during the Q&A, was the unknown future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which is designed to help eligible immigrants by granting them a limited immigration benefit by the Department of Homeland Security.
Under “color of law,” according to DACA’s official website, the individual is granted a temporary deferment of deportation. The policy, however, is not a pathway to “lawful residence” in the United States.
Last semester, Smatresk addressed his official stance on sanctuary campuses, stating that UNT is a law abiding campus and would not become a sanctuary. Instead, he offered the question of whether or not the university was doing what they needed for all of the students.
More recently, Trump released an executive order stating that sanctuary jurisdictions “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” Given that one of Trump’s campaign promise was to repeal DACA, many students have become increasingly afraid that the ban is only the beginning of a tighter America.
Despite officially opposing sanctuary campuses, Smatresk said during the panel that although he cannot lobby, in his personal opinion, he believes anyone working toward a degree deserves a chance at citizenship and is in favor of keeping DACA, but his hands are tied when it comes to listening to the student body and complying with federal laws.
“As far as what I’m allowed to do legally in the state, we represent a state agency and we will abide by the law,” Smatresk said. “And I know you all think that’s some kind of cop-out, but that’s what you do because the risk of loss of financial aid, accreditation status and other sanctions that could be proposed by the federal government are currently unknown.”
When it came to the travel ban, Smatresk stated in the panel that there are currently 50 UNT students with visas from predominantly Muslim countries and cleared up the confusion for students with green cards from the seven barred countries, which are another 37 students.
“We’re proud our campus is international,” Smatresk said. “We’re proud our campus attracts students from around the world to participate in education, and when a student comes here, we view that student as part of the family and have all of the protections we can possibly give them.”
He stressed that specifics for the future are currently unknown, but as of now, it is important to be proactive.
He advises that students with green cards from the barred countries should avoid traveling. But if they can’t, they should speak to the UNT International office before leaving the country.
“It’s our strong belief that America is a country of immigrants built and made great by immigrants,” Smatresk said. “We pride ourselves on our open door and on accepting people from other countries to give them an opportunity to contribute to our economy and become successful citizens…but also to help support us as we support them.”