On Monday afternoon, around 40 students rallied for immigrant rights, demanding more legal services for undocumented students and the end of university contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The rally, which was held opposite Day Hall, was hosted by the Cornell DREAM Team, which demands that the University provide free immigration legal services to students, dispels ties with ICE and provides more administrative support to undocumented students.
Protesters carried monarch paper butterflies as a symbol of immigrant rights and signs that read “End the Contracts”, “Celebrate Joy Without Papers” and “No One Is Illegal on Stolen Land”, while chanting “The power to the people, no human is illegal ”. and “humanity over nationality, people over profit”.
DREAM Team Vice President Stella Linardi ’22 and DREAM Team Secretary Melissa Yanez ’21 said that while some of the protesters’ concerns are more recent, many of them relate to a long time problems that students have been protesting for years. Yanez said she hopes the rally will prompt the University to take action to meet the group’s demands.
“I don’t need a dressing solution anymore,” Yanez said. “DACA in and of itself isn’t a solid form of status for anyone, but Cornell treats it for the way it is. “
Deferred action for arrivals of children was an executive order under the Obama administration – then repealed under the Trump administration and reinstated by President Joe Biden in January 2021 – that allowed undocumented people who arrived in the United States as children to benefit from a period two-year renewable postponement. People granted temporary status through the DACA are often referred to as “dreamers,” a term in the Foreign Minors Development, Aid, and Education Act, a bill before Congress.
Currently, Cornell activists want increased legal support and service for undocumented students to navigate a tumultuous and opaque legal system.
Linardi said she and her fellow organizers had planned the rally for two weeks – in response to the difficulties many new undocumented students say they’ve encountered trying to get legal assistance from Cornell since the start of the semester.
In a letter to the university administration – written by Linardi and other undocumented students, student activists and law students – the group demanded an end to many of the campus’s ties to U.S. immigration and customs, including the limitation of its presence on campus.
Linardi also said that after the rally she received an email from Cornell Law School offering a virtual “DACA Renewal Clinic” through Cornell Law School 1L Immigration Law & Advocacy Clinic and Tompkins / Tioga County Catholic Charities.
While this service would help Linardi and other students who already have DACA status, Linardi said she and other student organizers are particularly concerned about students applying for DACA status for the first time because they may not know how to navigate the complex US immigration system.
But beyond the call for more support for undocumented students at the University, according to Yanez, the rally also celebrated the “joy of the undocumented”. The main parts of the gathering were to sing college parody songs and play music through a loudspeaker.
“I liked feeling the love and support from different people because that’s what we wanted to achieve, an undocumented joy, just like a celebration,” Yanez said. “I am glad that my peers recognized me yesterday as a member of the DREAM team in particular, and I look forward to seeing people who really want to support undocumented students on campus.”
Thomas Dolan graduate, a member of Law Students for Abolition, said that the cross between the two legal research databases used by Cornell Law – LexisNexis and Westlaw – and their link with providing data to ICE made him want to get involved in the rally.
Dolan also said he thinks the law school should make a statement regarding their contracts with research databases: Dolan believes that while many law school students use these services regularly, they don’t understand. the ramifications of data sharing companies engage with ICE.
“The best way to approach [the issue of the data-sharing database contracts] is working with the wider Cornell community, to gain attention and engage not only the Dean of Law School, but also President Pollack, ”Dolan said. “That is why [the Law Students for Abolition] were specifically looking for outside bands and the DREAM team is really the one that started it all.
Two law students Claire Piorkowski graduate and Serene Kabir graduate also got involved in the rally by leading the letter of demands regarding Lexis and Westlaw data sharing with ICE.
“I decided to get involved because I personally believe that no one, regardless of their paper status, is ‘illegal’ when living on stolen land,” Piorkowski said, referring to the colonial past of the United States.
Linardi and Yanez said the DREAM team are planning to expand their campaign to other Ivy League schools and the team is currently working with students from Dartmouth University. According to Yanez, working with students at peer institutions has helped reduce the sense of isolation that comes with advocacy work.
According to Linardi and Yanez, the University of California system has implemented many of the protocols they want to use as a model at Cornell, including a protocol in the case of ICE interactions, as well as an ICE interaction toolbox which applies to all students, faculty, staff and administration.
Relations with ICE extend beyond law school to campus presence, a big concern for activists, who are pushing for a new protocol in the event of interactions with ICE. Linardi and Yanez hope to implement Know your rights training and additional training during the first year of orientation and for teachers and staff, as well as a security system and ICE alert notifications.
Victor Yengle grad, member of the Graduate Labor Organization, came to the rally to defend the rights of immigrants in the workplace. As a previously undocumented person, Yengle also said he felt it was important to use his privilege now as a U.S. citizen to support organizations fighting for their rights.
“I sympathize with the struggle that many immigrant students, especially those who are undocumented, face,” Yengle said. “It is my personal belief to use the privilege I have access to now as a US citizen to also support organizations fighting for collective recognition.”
At the rally, many speakers expressed their dissatisfaction with Cornell’s slogan, “Anyone, Any Study” in the face of the barriers facing undocumented students.
“It’s hard to see Cornell being able to cultivate an image of inclusiveness and diversity among academic achievement, while refusing to better support his marginalized student populations,” Linardi said.
Linardi and Yanez said the best way for the college community to support their efforts is to show up at their protests and help with advocacy. Yanez said it’s not enough just to recognize the efforts of undocumented peers, and said she wanted people of all immigration status to contribute to the advocacy work.
“What we have achieved is gradual positive progress towards these demands,” said Linardi. “Cornell’s bureaucracy often serves to dilute the power and contribution of students as actors in their community and in these policies. “
Rory Confino-Pinzon ’24 contributed reporting.