President Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration this week, a move which begins to separate campaign rhetoric from policy. But how the language in the orders affects local immigrants and the support they receive from local government and Penn State remains to be seen.
The executive orders have several implications, some of which include building a southern border wall and suspension of the U.S. Refuge Admissions Program for 120 days. On a local level, Trump’s call for 10,000 additional deportation force officers and the language defining who can be deported could result in deportation officers coming to State College.
When Trump began his presidential campaign with a speech in June 2015, he suggested immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists, a quote that stuck with him throughout the campaign. One of the orders signed this week attempts to define the word “criminal” in order to initiate deportation. The order prioritizes the removal of “aliens” who:
▪ Have been convicted of any criminal offense
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▪ Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved
▪ Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense
▪ Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency
▪ Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits
▪ Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States
▪ In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security
During Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly spoke about removing “bad people” who committed crimes in the U.S., but the language in the order suggests that undocumented people who are simply suspected of a crime can be deported. This language may be Constitutionally problematic.
During the immigrant rights “teach-in” recently held at Penn State, assistant Dean of Penn State Law Victor Romero explained that section 1 of the 14th Amendment states that federal or state government may not “deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
“In terms of basic rights to due process and equal protection, the framers chose to use the word ‘person’ and not ‘citizen’ to extend protection to non-citizens,” Romero said.
Whether or not the language of the executive order is constitutional remains to be seen. On a local level, perhaps the more problematic directive in the order grants immigration officers the power to begin the deportation of undocumented people who are “subject to a final order of removal, but have not complied with their legal obligation.”
The subsection of the executive order offers no clarification or consideration of the conditions surrounding an undocumented person’s reason for staying. Under the subsection, Penn State students who attend the university as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may be at risk.
DACA is a policy signed by President Barak Obama in 2012, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16 to receive protection from deportation orders. But some students may have an old deportation order that was issued prior to Obama signing the policy, which makes them vulnerable, according to the Immigrant Justice Network.
In November, Penn State President Eric Barron pledged his support for DACA students by signing a letter along with more than 600 other college and university presidents nationwide. Since then, some universities and U.S. cities have adopted the title “sanctuary,” which suggests protection from federal authorities.
Following the signing of the letter, Penn State clarified in a December press release, that the university does not accept the term “sanctuary campus,” calling it an “ambiguous term that is subject to multiple interpretations and has no legal validity.”
The university also vowed to comply with legal obligations to local, state and federal governments by protecting student privacy based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, “except in accordance with the law.”
When asked for a response to Trump’s executive order, the university responded with the December press release.
In response to Trump’s executive order, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said the borough will continue with its commitment to equality and justice but will not be subject to the sanctuary label.
“We do not consider ourselves a sanctuary city,” Goreham said. “We consider ourselves a welcoming city, committed to equality and inclusion, but we recognize that immigration is a federal responsibility.”
Goreham said State College will continue its long-standing policy of not asking for immigration status while conducting an investigation or routine police business, but will allow the federal government to handle immigration.