With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration date days away, City Council’s meeting Tuesday night was dominated by the discussion of how to protect undocumented individuals, a topic usually reserved for a national scope. Larcom City Hall was packed with more than 100 residents supporting the council’s resolution to urge President Barack Obama and state legislators to take steps protecting those who applied to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DACA is an immigration policy put in place by Obama in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrant youth who meet certain criteria to receive a two-year deferral from deportation and a work permit. Trump, who ran on a platform against immigration and refugrees, has proposed policies which would threaten it. The President-elect has previously referred to undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and has called for a suspension on accepting refugees from war-torn Syria.
Though the University of Michigan has not declared itself a sanctuary campus, there are privacy policies in place barring the University from providing information about immigration status to authorities except under criminal legal situations. Ann Arbor also has not declared itself a sanctuary city, but the police can enforce immigration laws only under criminal circumstances.
A series of speakers from By Any Means Necessary, a national student civil rights organization, spoke to the council and attendees in support of protecting DACA. Speakers reasoned undocumented immigrants will face threats during Trump’s presidency, which has promised of a deportation force and a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
BAMN member Jessica Provinski commended Obama on the work he has done to safeguard his legacy from the incoming administration, and said she hopes to see the outgoing president perform one last move before he leaves office.
“(Obama) must use his executive power to do everything he can to defend young immigrant recipients of the DACA program,” Provinski said. “If we are to defend each other and our society from a dark future, we must protect the most vulnerable of us.”
Timothy Hunter, a high school teacher from the Washtenaw Independent School District, also urged everyone in attendance to recognize the humanity of the immigrant and refugee children he interacts with on a daily basis.
“These children are like all children,” Hunter said. “They want to learn, they want to be productive, they want to go to college. Some of them want to just work, work, work. They are human beings. They breathe, they bleed, they love, they are just like us.”
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), who sponsored the resolution, recounted her childhood memories as a refugee in India during the Sri Lankan civil war. As a member of the Tamil minority who had to flee the island from violent Sinhalese mobs, Kailasapathy said rhetoric against immigrants and refugees strikes a personal chord with her.
“Before we left our house we just checked to see (its ruins),” Kailasapathy recalled. “There was a fish tank. Even the fish tank was pushed down. The fish were all dead. The people who came to burn our house were just so angry, not just towards us being minorities but our pets too. It just leaves a mark on you that just never leaves you, this blind hatred.”
Kailasapathy urged everyone in the crowd to go beyond their preconceptions and understand the extraordinary hardships that immigrants and refugees experience.
“I hope all of us can go beyond this racism that’s threatening this country,” Kailasapathy added. “(Refugees are) all minorities, and they all come from another country, and they’re merely victims. They are not to be treated as bad people.”
Central Student Government body members also passed a similar resolution last week. The body voted 26-4, with seven abstaining. Arts and Design senior Keysha Walls, a BAMN member, said protecting documented students was Obama’s obligation, noting applying to DACA was a large risk for undocumented youth as it required personal information, including DNA samples, that could be used to identify and deport them.
“The safety of these undocumented immigrants is only promised under the Obama administration,” Wall said last week to the CSG body. “For Obama to know these things and not take every cautionable step to ensure the continued safety of undocumented peoples in this nation is disgusting and inhumane … If he will not act on his own, then we must take action, in doing so set the example for him.”
The resolution was approved to thunderous applause from attendees. Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), who also sponsored the resolution, praised it for upholding Ann Arbor’s history of protecting all members of the city’s community in spite of a political climate in Washington D.C. and Lansing that is unfriendly to immigrants and refugees.
“This action … is part of a longstanding tradition of the Ann Arbor community and the City Council speaking up for protection of all of our community members, including those who are immigrants,” Warpehoski said. “The ways that we’re going to support each other, keep each other safe, and have the kind of community of inclusion and justice that we want is by finding every route and pursuing it on a local level."