Six faculty members criticized Penn President Amy Gutmann this week for failing to sign a petition calling for Penn to be a sanctuary campus or addressing a undocumented students wrote to her last week.
The letter from undocumented immigrant students, which was recently made public, argues for the significance of a sanctuary campus and asks for an in-person meeting with Gutmann.
Becoming a sanctuary campus would bring Penn in line with Philadelphia’s self-proclaimed status as a sanctuary city. This classification generally means that a school is committed to protecting undocumented immigrants by choosing not to cooperate with immigration enforcement unless ordered by a court. Portland State University, Reed College and Wesleyan University have already declared themselves as sanctuary campuses.
Gutmann has expressed her commitment to the protection of undocumented immigrant students, but she has yet to put forth any specific policy proposals.
“For me personally, there is a sense of disappointment, especially since we were so hopeful,” said College senior Silvia Huerta, a member of the group Undocumented at Penn.
“It would have meant a lot for her to at least acknowledge that she saw the letter,” added College junior and Executive Board member of Penn for Immigrant Rights Pamela Fuentes Rodriguez. “It would have made me feel that she is supporting us, that she has read what we are concerned about and thought about how she is going to address [these issues]. Right now, I don’t know if she actually understands what we need.”
Two weeks ago, nearly 100 faculty members signed an open letter to Gutmann with four recommendations for Penn’s administration to stand behind undocumented students.
Since the release of this open letter, Gutmann has signed a alongside 370 college and university presidents and chancellors in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and responded in a on Nov. 16 that she shares the faculty’s “deep care and concern for all our students and especially those students who are undocumented immigrants.”
Gutmann said she has “consistently communicated to political leaders — through myriad means — to drive home the critical importance of supporting essential immigration reforms,” citing an open letter that she wrote in 2013 about the issue.
Fuentes Rodriguez said while it is encouraging to hear Gutmann’s support for national policies like DACA and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, she would have preferred if Gutmann put forth explicit policy proposals.
“At this time, what we are asking for is things locally, at our school, that can make us feel safer and more protected,” she said.
College senior Daisy Romero, another board member of Penn for Immigrant Rights, agreed.
“We know that [Gutmann] has been receptive to our presence on campus and definitely cares about us, but right now, we need more than ‘It will be okay, we have your back,’” Romero said. “What we need from her is to make Penn a safe space for undocumented students.”
Since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Gutmann has not met with any student organizations for undocumented immigrant students at Penn, representatives from Penn for Immigrant Rights and Undocumented at Penn said. Gutmann did not respond to a request asking for comment on this issue and her spokesperson did not make her available for an in-person interview.
“Her schedule is truly packed this week so it will be difficult to set up an interview,” the spokesperson said in an email. “I think you have plenty to work with including the recent statements I’ve sent, as well as her very long history speaking out in support of the DREAM Act.”
“We are still waiting for a response and hopeful for a response, but we are also ready to fight for the things we believe in,” Huerta said.
She added that she hopes students and staff at Penn will participate in a national sanctuary that is being held at College Green on Thursday, Dec. 1 from 2:50-3:50 p.m.
“We love the fact that over 3,000 people signed the petition, but we also need their presence tomorrow,” she said. “We need to see some faces.”
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