Immigration is a hot topic sweeping our political climate and impacting communities all across the country. Here at George Mason, the multiple travel bans and mass deportation implemented by the current United States Presidential administration has left many students and faculty grasping to figure out how to find security for themselves and their loved ones. Where does George Mason stand on the current issues of immigration? Where does George Mason stand on the current issues of undocumented individuals? And what policies does George Mason University have in place to protect international students and faculty members? In many ways those questions have largely gone unanswered, but by taking a look at some of our policies, and the policies of other universities we might be able to get a sense of where things stand. First, let us take a look at some of the benefits of maintaining a strong community of international students at George Mason University.
Mason prides itself on being a diverse community. We have students from all over the globe. According to CollegeFactual.com, George Mason is in the 90th percentile for most diverse Universities in the Nation and we continue to increase our number of international students every year. Having diversity helps enrich our culture as a University and it adds expansive opportunities for students groups and activities. But enhancing Mason’s culture is not the only benefit of having international students. They also contribute immensely to Mason’s tuition income.
Niall Hegarty, a professor at Tobin College of Business, talks extensively about what international students provide for universities and why most universities would be in jeopardy if they didn’t have international students.
The first thing he touched on was that international students provide a huge amount of funding for Universities. Not only do they pay more in tuition than the rest of the student body, they continue to pay the same rate no matter how many years they stay, unlike out of state students who can earn in state tuition over time. Hegarty also talks about the benefits of diversity on campuses. International students create a rich culture that cannot be duplicated. Many colleges take great pride in the different countries and cultures represented at their schools.
While diversity is a part of what makes many universities flourish, diversity does not always equal integration. Without true integration, both international students and undocumented students become more vulnerable, as they do not have the support or protection from the entire community. According to Oikonomidoy, the author of “Enemies or Friends,” the lack of true integration can be problematic for immigrant students. When there is true integration, the student population is more likely to look out for one another, but in many universities, immigrant students tend to only make relationships with other immigrant students, leaving them somewhat disconnected from the rest of their peers. (Oikonomidoy, 2016). Not having confidence in one’s own community can leave immigrant students feeling even more vulnerable. And that vulnerability is not always adequately addressed by University leadership. Undocumented students, specifically, have had increased concerns as fairfax county has worked very closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in pursuing and deporting undocumented residents within the county.
In a recent email to students and faculty, the president of George Mason University, Mr. Cabrera, voiced his personal rejection of some of the consequences of the travel ban issued by President Trump. He writes, “I am deeply concerned about this decision. This is not only unbefitting a country build by immigrants on the ideals of liberty and equality, but it is also a self-inflicted wound that will damage the very innovation that lies at the root of our nation’s prosperity.” He went on to say, “As the situation evolves, we will do whatever we can to protect our students, faculty and staff within the confines of the law [emphasis added].” (Cabrera, 2017). George Mason Leadership only asserts that it will act within the confines of the law. Under our current U.S. presidential administration, “within the confines of the law” is a recipe for mass deportation, even for those students who formerly had protection under President Obama. These sentiments have not left undocumented students and faculty at George Mason University with much faith in the protection of the community.
Compare George Mason’s stance to a statement put out by Bucknell University, “The application of such limitations to members of our own community—and of communities across the country—is deeply distressing. We will stand united against acts that impede our commitment to inclusivity [emphasis added] and, further, will push for decisions that reflect community and compassion.” [emphasis added]. (USA Today, 2017). While both responses express concern for the direction of the current U.S. administration, the response of Bucknell University is much more settling and assertive. It is this type of response that can help students and faculty have confidence in the protection their community offers. Why has George Mason refused to be more assertive in their protection of students? It may come down to the fact that Mason is located in an expressly non-sanctuary city/county.
Rose Cuison Villazor, a Professor of Law at UC Davis Law School, wrote an article titled, “Sanctuary Cities and Local Citizenship,” which was published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. Villazor defines a sanctuary city as a city that does not cooperate or collaborate with national immigration law enforcement or regulations that are discriminatory in nature. (Villazor, 2010). Some examples of non-cooperation would be allowing undocumented citizens to obtain a form of photo identification, not identifying undocumented individuals to federal agencies like ICE unless they have committed a felony, and allowing local citizen political involvement regardless of documentation status. These factors can be used to weigh in on how George Mason University is doing protecting their vulnerable student population. Based on George Mason’s previously mentioned statement, students would not be offered much protection, as Mason’s stated policy is to operate within the law, as opposed to resist the law if necessary. (Cabrera, 2017).
In an interview, a faculty member in the field of Islamic studies expressed, “We [George Mason] have a loose policy of supporting all students without any specific policies, making it a commitment in word but not deed.” This member believes that Mason tends to put out comforting statements, but never assertively confronts or resolve to resist unethical mandates. (Anonamous GMU faculty, 2017).
So as we can see, even though George Mason is concerned with the direction the administration has taken on immigration, it clearly is not their only concern. While international students bring in a huge amount of funding, Mason also receives funding from other sources, which might be another reason they are hesitant to commit too strongly to the protection of their students at any cost. The current administration has threatened that cities, counties, and/or universities that do not cooperate on things like the travel ban and deportation of undocumented citizens could face financial cuts. Fairfax county has been very explicit in its stance as specifically not a sanctuary county. (Fairfax County 2017). Therefore, George Mason, being located in Fairfax County, has an even greater risk of students encountering discriminatory practice on and surrounding the campus.
While no specific policies have been implemented at George Mason, I think it is fair to see why some vulnerable students and staff feel George Mason’s leadership has not offered adequate protection during this national immigration crisis. With the information presented it seems vital that students take it upon themselves to stay informed about changes in immigration policy. It is also crucial that we look out for one another. Just because the University isn’t willing to stand as a sanctuary, does not mean that the student body, as a whole, cannot be one. Let us each take notice of those around us. If you would like to get involved in protecting both our international and undocumented students at Mason, consider joining one of the many student groups, like Mason Dreamers or UndocAlly. Find ways to stand with those who have been marginalized by both our U.S administration and our University leadership.
College Factual. “George Mason University International.” N.p., 12 Apr. 2017. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/george-mason-university/student-life/international/
Hegarty, Niall. “Where We Are Now –The Presence and Importance of International Students to Universities in the United States.” Journal of International Students 4.3 (2014): 223-235. Tobin College of Business. Web. Retrieved from Https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/da9c/eade7c96e3c4da8f67d26b8885c6a3db2986.pdf.
Interview with George Mason Faculty. Anonymous. 2017.
Oikonomidoy, Eleni. (2016). Enemies or Friends? Newcomer Immigrant Students’ Developing Conceptions of Diversity in High School. Education and Urban Society. Sage Publishing2016. 10.1177/0013124516678044 Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013124516678044
Fairfax County. 2017. “Immigrants in Fairfax County.” Immigrants in Fairfax County – Fairfax County, Virginia. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news/2017/immigrants.htm
USA Today College Staff. 2017. How Universities are Responding to Trump’s Travel Ban. Online journal. Retrieved from http://college.usatoday.com/2017/01/29/how-universities-are-responding-to-trumps-travel-ban/
Villazor, Rose Cuison. “Sanctuary Cities and Local Citizenship.” Fordham Urban Law Journal 37.2 (2010): 573-598.