Newall: Bill to protect colleges from undocumented students is a nightmare for Dreamers
State Rep. Jerry Knowles is about to introduce a bill so popular it's already won 26 cosponsors. It's designed to combat what Knowles, a Republican from Schuylkill County, says is a grave threat to American colleges: undocumented students.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles is about to introduce a bill so popular it's already won 26 cosponsors.
It's designed to combat what Knowles, a Republican from Schuylkill County, says is a grave threat to American colleges: undocumented students.
With his measure, Knowles wants to strip state aid from any university that designates itself a "sanctuary campus."
Knowles explained his reasoning, as my colleague Susan Snyder reported, in a memo to legislators: Turning a blind eye to students who are undocumented immigrants, he wrote, "endangers the lives" of everyone else on campus.
I wondered how Rep. Knowles formed his thesis. Surely he knows of campus crime sprees committed by undocumented aspiring neuroscientists.
He must have scoped out the four colleges in Schuylkill County - including Lehigh Carbon Community College and Penn State Schuylkill - to sniff out criminal tendencies lurking within undocumented bioengineering majors.
Surely he talked with at least one Dreamer, as college students and other young people protected from deportation by President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are known. These are young people who were kids when their parents brought them to this country illegally.
I reached Knowles at his district office in Tamaqua (pop. 7,107, 96.1 percent white), in Pennsylvania's southern coal region.
Call me Jerry, he said.
An amiable guy.
His bill, he explained, is aimed at the "antagonistic liberals" at schools like the University of Pennsylvania, who have vowed to protect students.
"They are poking their fingers at us," he said.
Jerry said he could not cite any acts of violence committed by Dreamers on a state campus. He wasn't saying there weren't any - he just didn't know.
(Before you email me, the Ohio State student, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, shot dead by police after he rammed into and stabbed 11 people last month, was here legally as a refugee.)
"There is always the possibility they could be dangerous," Jerry said.
It's almost as if violence on college campuses is like violence everywhere: a complex problem with many roots that demands complex solutions and is not easily solved by blanket statements that demonize entire groups of people.
Jerry said he had not bothered to meet with any undocumented students.
I can help him here.
Meet the Castillo-Jimenez siblings: Gerardo, Fatima, and Erick. They all attended - or, in Erick's case, still attend - Lehigh Carbon Community College, right there in Jerry's district.
Their parents brought them from Puebla City, Mexico, when they were young. They didn't make the choice. Now, they make a future here.
"Absolutely, I view America as my country," said Gerardo, who is 26 and ultimately studied criminal justice at Kutztown University.
He lives in University City and works as a social worker at HIAS Pennsylvania, a group that provides legal services to immigrants and refugees. But Gerardo's always dreamed of something else, something his immigration status prevents: a career in law enforcement.
He'd like to join the FBI, helping to craft policy to bridge the divide between police and the most vulnerable.
Gerardo wasn't a threat to his classmates, Jer. He was trying to make them safer.
Meanwhile, Erick is studying to be a nurse. Fatima works in communications.
If Jerry had met Gerardo, here's what this Dreamer would have said:
"If you cannot provide any actual tangible evidence that these students pose a threat to universities and you still stick by your argument so strongly, then it only makes you look like a fool and an unintelligent person who is unable to look up facts."
To diminish these young people as a danger is just as dangerous and xenophobic as Donald Trump descending his golden escalator to call Mexicans rapists and criminals.
They want to improve their country - even as some don't want them here. These are strivers who have beaten the odds, only to hear hateful words from people who don't even take the time to meet them. They deserve better.