Agnes Scott president: We stand by our undocumented students and support their dreams

Protesters demonstrated against Georgia Board of Regents policies that bar immigrants without legal status from top schools and qualifying for in-state tuition rates at others. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Elizabeth Kiss is president of Agnes Scott College in Decatur. A few days ago, she announced her campus would maintain its support of undocumented students. In a column today, she explains why.

First, some background on what is turning into a volatile issue in Georgia: Many children of illegal immigrants are now attending college under the 4-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The federal program applies to young immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children, who attend school here and have no felony convictions. Those accepted into the program are granted temporary reprieves from deportation and permits to work legally in the U.S.

More 740,000 immigrants, including 23,000 Georgians, have benefited from DACA. Many now fear President-Elect Donald Trump will act on his promise to crack down on illegal immigrants and undo DACA.

Emory University and Agnes Scott have both taken stands, prompting a rebuke from a Georgia House leader. As the AJC reported:

Emory President Claire Sterk said last week that the school would follow state and federal laws but also continue to support its “Dreamers.” She also said administrators were reviewing whether to declare Emory a “sanctuary campus and ways to protect all members of the Emory community.” Following Trump’s election, students and faculty from more than 100 universities have called on their administrators to declare themselves sanctuaries or otherwise protect students who are illegally in the U.S.

Today, the University System of Georgia released a statement warning that Georgia’s public colleges must follow the law and cannot become sanctuary campuses, the term being used for those schools vowing to protect students who are illegal immigrants.

In its statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the university system said while they respect the rights of students, faculty and staff to express their views, “calls for institutions to implement policies and procedures that may violate state and federal laws are unacceptable. The University System of Georgia and its institutions have always abided by the law and will continue to do so. We expect our institutions to follow the law and cooperate with all federal and state agencies. As public employees we have a duty to uphold the law.”

With that background, here is a column from Dr. Kiss on the issue. By the way, her last name is pronounced “quiche.” A 1983 graduate of Davidson College, Dr. Kiss received a B.Phil. and D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University in England. A Rhodes Scholar, she has held fellowships at the Harvard Program in Ethics and the Professions, the National Humanities Center and Melbourne University’s Centre on Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. She specializes in moral and political philosophy and has published on moral judgment and education, human rights, ethnic conflict and nationalism, feminist debates about rights and justice and justice in the aftermath of human rights violations.

By Elizabeth Kiss

One teaches in an Atlanta-area public school with Teach for America and is an award-winning artist.  Another is studying public health, focusing on strategies to help people prevent and manage chronic diseases like diabetes. A third is a math whiz who wants to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. And a fourth has interned with the energy company Exelon and is exploring a career in organizational management.

Who are they? These Agnes Scott students and alums were brought to this country as children. They were undocumented. But at the very first opportunity provided to them, they registered with the federal government through the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. They are bright, hard-working young women who have played by the rules, graduated from high school, and passed a criminal background check. They want to become U.S. citizens and pursue the American Dream.

Agnes Scott’s DACA students do not receive a penny of state or federal aid – no HOPE scholarships, TEG grants, Pell grants, or federal student loans.  They are not taking places away from American-born students on our campus.  They are able to go to college because they receive private scholarship support which we raise from donors and foundations, and scrape together the rest of their college costs through the hard work of their families in housekeeping, construction, agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing and the U.S. military.

Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss

Elizabeth Kiss

Why does Agnes Scott support DACA students? Because as a private, church-related institution, we believe children should not be punished for actions by adults over whom they had no control. We believe it is our right as well as our sacred obligation to invest in young people who have the skills and drive to make a difference in the world. And we are committed, in the words of our mission statement, to educating students to “think deeply, live honorably, and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times.”

Today, the DACA program is at risk of being terminated, putting those with DACA status at risk of deportation. This would be a tragic loss to the America my parents taught me to love.

My father was a political prisoner in Hungary under both the Nazis and the Communists. He and my mother, along with my two sisters, came to America 60 years ago as refugees. They fled an evil communist regime in which the secret police arrested those who criticized the government and punished and targeted their wives, mothers and children.

My parents loved and celebrated America for its commitment to freedom, democracy, and fairness. In America, you could speak up and disagree with the government. In America, you could freely practice your faith.  In America, you could build a business to provide jobs and contribute to your community. You could be welcomed and given an opportunity to build a new life as an American.

I believe passionately in these great American values. And I believe we live up to these values when we give bright, hard-working young people who have done nothing wrong the opportunity to learn, earn, and give back to this country.

 

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
TMG9139
TMG9139

 Go Agnes Scott! I am so proud of President Kiss! Here is a funny story that I haven't shared online yet.


My grandparents/great-grandparents were undocumented for a really long time. None of them finished high school. Some of them don't speak English that well. They still live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Western WA. I am not even going to discuss how many "government services" my extended family uses. My uncle is a drug dealer who has been in and out of jail for years. However, no one asks me anything about my family because I am white. No one has ever asked me if I am undocumented even though I am the descendant of undocumented immigrants. The current "anti-immigrant" climate is being driven by racism. There is no way around it.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

I think my position on illegal aliens coming into our country and staying has been stated very succinctly over the past five or six years in Ms. Downey's Columns.


We have laws in America that deal with these kinds of actions by illegals.  Laws are made to be enforced.  Under the administration of one bhusseino, they have been mostly ignored and illegal aliens are coming across our border in record number.  Some of these illegal aliens are criminals and some commit horrendous crimes which have been well covered by some News Organizations, mostly FNC.  The others have given these kinds of crimes just a cursory review.


President-Elect Donald J. Trump was elected by an Electoral College Landslide.  He campaigned on stopping the flow of illegal aliens coming into our country and this is one of the primary reasons he was elected.  He was given a mandate by the people of America......"Enforce Our Immigration Laws".  President-Elect Trump, I believe, is a "Man of his word" and will work to resolve the problem; however, I also believe that if you fight him, such as Agnes Scott and Emory and all of the Sanctuary Cities in this Great Country, he will fight back and these institutions and cities will, in the end, not like the outcome.


America is entering a new era with the election of one Donald J. Trump.  We will return to the concept of what made us great...... we will return to "TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY".

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

If private colleges can afford to eliminate state and federal funding to do this, fine. That is definitely one of the pluses of private schools, that they don't have to answer to the state legislature. But I don't think that state colleges and universities can afford to do this, especially since they are supported by all the taxpayers.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

"They fled an evil communist regime in which the secret police arrested those who criticized the government and punished and targeted their wives, mothers and children."


The Democrats you support want exactly the same thing.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Don't Tread 

Fleeing an evil regime where secret police arrest those criticizing the government? Ummm, sounds like the Democrats, all right.

USMC2841
USMC2841

Which other laws does Dr. Kiss think should be ignored while on campus?  Are students allowed to ignore student loans if they find them onerous?  Are they allowed to carry firearms in the high crime area of Decatur?  What is the limit of her hypocrisy?

JeffHolzgrefe
JeffHolzgrefe

@USMC2841 President Kiss is publicly supporting the current policy of not deporting immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents.  She is simply making the case that the current law not be changed.  Nowhere in her letter does she advocate ignoring or breaking the law -- merely not changing it to something that would be unjust. That is all. 

Astropig
Astropig

Follow the law.If the law is bad,change it.But an institutionalized double standard for immigration is as wrong as Jim Crow laws were,back in the day.


Follow the law.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig 

Immigration law hasn't been changed yet...wait till after Jan. 20.
Also, private schools have more leeway in which students they will accept or not.

JeffHolzgrefe
JeffHolzgrefe

@Astropig President Kiss is publicly supporting the current policy of not deporting immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents.  She is simply making the case that the current law not be changed.  Nowhere in her letter does she advocate ignoring or breaking the law -- merely not changing it to something that would be unjust. That is all. 

Lexi3
Lexi3

None of that justifies Agnes Scott--or anyone else flouting immigration or other laws. Every country has a right to determine who it will admit to visit or for residency, just as every homeowner has a right to determine who crosses his threshold. Just a difference in scale.

MyBad
MyBad

I have nothing against what Dr. Kiss has to say. I agree however with the Georgia Regents' decision to not allow undocumented aliens to attend schools supported by public monies. 


Perhaps there should be an expedited citizenship pathway for 'Dreamers' so they will be naturalized and can attend wherever they choose and qualify to attend.


Illegal is still illegal, regardless of how pretty of a picture you try to make of it (lipstick on a pig analogy). 

Starik
Starik

@MyBad We have stupid immigration laws. They should be fought or ignored, as the racial segregation laws were.

Aunt T
Aunt T

@Starik @MyBad Fought, yes. Changed, yes. I have a harder time with ignored because it is not a solution to the issue. Not everyone will be able to simply ignore it.  Ignoring it won't help the student who ends up facing charges. 


The success of the Civil Rights movement was not in ignoring the law. It was in changing it.

Aunt T
Aunt T

@MyBad I loved that analogy - in part because it was how my 73 year old mother described the President-Elect on a phone call to her former boss. 

Ignoring the law is not an option, but neither is forsaking young people who were not given a choice to come here.  They came with their parents and grew up here in a cultural and legal limbo.  If they want to work hard to improve their lives and that of their families, they should have that chance.  We have to find a way to temper justice with compassion.