A fast-growing Rutgers campus organization to support undocumented immigrants balances  traditional organizing tactics with social media campaigning —  even as its president is threatened with deportation.

As we went to press, UndocuRutgers founder and president Carimer Andujar was scheduled for a federal hearing that she feared could lead to her deportation. Here, she is interviewed by Democracy Now co-host and Kairos board member Prof. Juan González.

 

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, then President-elect Donald J. Trump placed immigration at the foreground of his political platform. Throughout his candidacy, he proposed several remedies to tighten border security and increase deportation measures for more than 10.9 million undocumented citizens (The Economist, 12/10/2016). In multiple speeches, Trump incited anti-immigrant rhetoric and depicted Mexican immigrants as violent “criminals” and “rapists,” calling them such things as “bad hombres.” To combat illegal immigration, he proposed building a barrier wall financed by Mexico, tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and requiring businesses to use E-verify, an online service that determines the work eligibility of employees.

The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 900 hate crimes against immigrants and other minorities that occurred in the United States during Trump’s campaign, noting a dramatic increase from the period before the campaign. According to the Center, “Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral success” (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016). Even on the Rutgers campus, there were instances of hateful speech scrawled on some campus buildings in the weeks just before the election.

Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and people of color has sparked national protests to celebrate the positive contributions immigrants have made to the country. In an attempt to debunk some of the discriminatory rhetoric used by Trump and his supporters, a Rutgers student immigrant rights organization called UndocuRutgers organized and participated in a national campaign movement to counter the rising levels of bigotry in the nation. UndocuRutgers advocates for the rights of undocumented students, creates a supportive community, and undermines dehumanizing speech targeted at immigrants.

On November 1, 2016, UndocuRutgers, in conjunction with the Rutgers Center for Latino Arts and Culture (CLAC), marched as part of the “I Am An Immigrant” national campaign. The campaign’s goal is to change public perceptions of who undocumented immigrants are. At Rutgers, about 200 students, faculty and staff marched in solidarity. This campaign showcased photos and statements by undocumented immigrants as a way to combat the hateful anti-immigrant slogans that were found written on the Livingston and College Avenue campuses, such as: “Viva La Deportation,” “Deport Force Coming” and “Make America Great Again.”

Following Trump’s election to the presidency, a much larger Rutgers protest took place on November 16. Rutgers student activists, in affiliation with a the NJ immigrants rights movement called Movimiento Cosecha, coordinated the event, and attracted more than 1,000 community members, students, and faculty (Krovatil, 2016). It started with a rally at Vorhees Mall and proceeded to march down George Street, ending at the Douglas Campus Center, generating a large traffic jam that temporarily halted the Rutgers University bus system. Prior to the march, speakers addressed the crowd, eliciting cheers, collectivize chants, and enthusiastic clapping. Carimer Andujar, founder of UndocuRutgers, said to the crowd, “We are here undocumented and unafraid. And we are here to stay.” Hundreds of signs were held high, ranging from statements such as “ICE not Welcome in New Brunswick” to “Ban Islamophobia” to “Love Trumps Hate”.

A National Sanctuary Campaign

This Rutgers march was part of a nationwide Sanctuary Campus campaign that calls upon universities to declare themselves “sanctuaries” that will not report undocumented students to ICE and will not use campus police to hand them over to immigration authorities. More than 100 universities across the United States have demanded that their administrations declare Sanctuary Campus status (Krovatil, 2016), a concept modeled after Sanctuary City policies in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and elsewhere.

With the initial lack of a commitment from the Rutgers administration to declare Rutgers a Sanctuary Campus, UndocuRutgers provided resources for undocumented families. On November 19, 2016, UndocuRutgers and the CLAC organized a college fair for undocumented high school students and college students. The fair provided information on former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, as well as information about New Jersey in-state tuition for undocumented residents, scholarship opportunities, and information about Rutgers admissions and financial aid. Moreover, the fair distributed tips on how to avoid immigration scams, and what to do if confronted by immigration agents.

It is clear that in this particular case at Rutgers, where social media was combined with intensive face-to-face meetings and actions, organizing was successful in achieving one of the largest peaceful sanctuary campus protests in the country.

In light of the ever-growing expression of support for a Sanctuary Campus from Rutgers students, staff and faculty, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi circulated an email three weeks after Trump’s election stating: “Rutgers has taken a leading position in support of maintaining the privacy for our students, advocating for the continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and ensuring that we continue to provide a safe place for all students to live and learn.”

Rutgers is one of the most diverse universities in the United States, where 44.6% of the student body identifies as nonwhite (“Rutgers Facts & Figures” 2016). In the months before and since Donald Trump’s election, the issue of immigration has proven to be extremely contentious. On many occasions, Trump has positioned himself in direct opposition to undocumented people. For example, at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, he lobbied Republican lawmakers to block paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (Levy, 2013). In a post-election 60 Minutes interview, he vowed to deport “probably two million, it could even be three million” immigrants (Casselman, 2016). In the wake of the election, UndocuRutgers and related groups have called upon the Rutgers administration to officially declare itself a sanctuary campus. Students and faculty circulated an online Sanctuary Campus petition that was signed by hundreds of people and presented to President Barchi’s office, in another public rally on December 5, 2016.

President Barchi was asked several times by students to confirm his stance on the matter. In the first statement, which many found rather vague, he emphasized unity between student and faculty, despite political ideologies, religions, ethnicities, and races, and advocated a “safe space for all people to live and learn.” However, noticeably missing was his use of the actual term “sanctuary campus.” In a clarifying statement released on December 6, 2016 (the day after the second public rally at Rutgers’ Winnant Hall) he wrote, “In today’s political environment, terms such as ‘sanctuary campus’ have no legal meaning, and are encumbered by vague and shifting definitions and political connections. At Rutgers, we must be focused on policy and principles, not labels.” Yet, he assured the community that Rutgers would continue to advocate for the advancement of DACA.

Rutgers students walked out of class in November 2016, calling for the university to declare itself a sanctuary campus. Photo by Jennifer Goldberg

UndocuRutgers members believe their collective organizing efforts, and use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, encouraged Barchi to publicly support sanctuary campus ideals. Through online methods, they mobilized activists on a large scale, drawing crowds in the hundreds at the Fall 2016 campus protests. With the rise of the UndocuRutgers movement, related student organizations have joined forces with their own social media campaigns, to promote support for the university’s status as a sanctuary campus and to help raise awareness of the struggles of undocumented students. For example, the Latino men’s fraternity Lambda Sigma Upsilon, Inc. started the #LikeAMinority campaign, in which people discuss their experiences as part of any marginalized group, and how those experiences affected them. A portion of the campaign was intentionally dedicated to the issues of undocumented students. This campaign, along with the “I am an Immigrant” campaign, allowed for students’ personal stories to be shared, giving others the strength to speak out as well.

In addition to social media, the UndocuRutgers movement garnered attention from local media outlets, such as New Brunswick Today, NJ.com and The Daily Targum. The Targum spoke with UndocuRutgers Vice President Josue Serrano, who stated: “Our goal is to show how much of an impact immigrants have on this society. That we are here, we have been here and we have helped make this country what it is today (Patel et all, 2016).” The paper also covered students who favored Trump’s policies, reporting that UndocuRutgers activists were met by 10 “Rutgers for Trump” members, who believed the march supported illegal immigration, called for “law and order” and chanted “build that wall (Patel et al, 2016).”

The Rutgers sanctuary movement’s nearly 1,000-person walkout on November 16 also received national news coverage. CNN provided a video of aerial footage to demonstrate its size. Fox News host Tucker Carlson reported on the protest, interviewing student leader Alex Uematsu. However, from the start of the five-minute long interview, Carlson adopted the common news framing methods of “trivialization” and “polarization” (Gitlin, 1980) to make light of the student protesters. Trivializing student efforts to express their political views, Carlson adopted a condescending tone in his questioning of Uematsu, as if aiming to make him look foolish. He asked, “Who has a right to come to the United States?” Uematsu explained that he felt immigration was the foundation of U.S. society, and that undocumented students who had lived in the United States for most of their lives should have the right to a state-subsidized education. Throughout the interview, Carlson made dismissive facial expressions and trivialized Uematsu as “a liberal, a radical, a lefty” who was uninformed, naive, and needed to “think this through.” He also polarized the subject by posing an incongruent analogy to Uematsu: “Do you think people have a right to lock their doors? Or do you think they have the obligation to let anybody in?” In saying this, the reporter tried to make Uematsu look like a “head in the clouds” idealist, something that sociologist and scholar Todd Gitlin also noted of media coverage of student protesters in the 1970s (Gitlin 1980). Uematsu clarified that the movement advocated for the dignity of immigrants.

UndocuRutgers is an inspirational group, not only because of its human rights goals, but because of how far its has come in such short period of time. This organization is the epitome of “grassroots.” What is most notable is the organization’s balance between using traditional “on-the-ground” organizing tactics and social media. Although social media activism allows for fast mass engagement, it does not guarantee that the diverse people following a movement online will necessarily hold the same ideals or tackle an issue in a cohesive manner (Porto & Brandt 2015). However, it is clear that in this particular case at Rutgers, where social media was combined with intensive face-to-face meetings and actions, organizing was successful in achieving one of the largest peaceful sanctuary campus protests in the country.

Works Cited

Casselman, B. (2016, November 14). FiveThirtyEight political website.. There Aren’t 2 To 3 Million Undocumented Immigrants With Criminal Records For Trump To Deport. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/there-arent-2-to-3-million-undocumented-immigrants-with-criminal-records-for-trump-to-deport/http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/there-arent-2-to-3-million-undocumented-immigrants-with-criminal-records-for-trump-to-deport/

Donald Trump’s administration could deport millions of undocumented immigrants, using a system perfected under Barack Obama. (2016). Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21711336-if-he-wins-second-term-president-elect-could-realistically-expel-around-4m-people.

Gitlin, T. (1980). The whole world is watching: Mass media in the making & unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kratovil, C. New Brunswick Today. Anti-Trump Movement Focuses on Immigration Issue. http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/anti-trump-movement-rutgers-focuses-immigration-issue. 2016. Web accessed Dec,10.16.

Levy, P. (2013, March 15). Talking Points Memo. Trump: Let In More (White) Immigrants. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/trump-let-in-more-white-immigrantshttp://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/trump-let-in-more-white-immigrants

Patel, H., Bhupathiraju, M., Kim, K., & Tabani, S. (2016, November 02). The Daily Targum. UndocuRutgers hosts rally in support of immigrants | Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://www.dailytargum.com/article/2016/11/undocurutgers-hosts-rally-in-support-of-immigrantshttp://www.dailytargum.com/article/2016/11/undocurutgers-hosts-rally-in-support-of-immigrants

Patel, H., Bhupathiraju, M., Kim, K., & Tabani, S. (n.d.). The Daily Targum. Rutgers for Trump counters pro-immigration march down College Avenue. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://www.dailytargum.com/article/2016/11/rutgers-for-trump-counters-pro-immigration-march-down-college-avenuehttp://www.dailytargum.com/article/2016/11/rutgers-for-trump-counters-pro-immigration-march-down-college-avenue

Porto, M.P., & Brant, J. (2015) Social Media and the 2013 Protests in Brazil The Contradictory Nature of Political Mobilization in the Digital Era, in Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest, L. Dencik and O. Leister (Eds.). New York: Rowman.

Rutgers Facts & Figures. (2016). Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://newbrunswick.rutgers.edu/about/facts-figureshttp://newbrunswick.rutgers.edu/about/facts-figures

Southern Poverty Law Center. Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the election. https://www.splcenter.org/20161129/ten-days-after-harassment-and-intimidation-aftermath-election. 2016. Web accessed December,10, 2016