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SUNY Old Westbury Immigrants Speak Out

“I feel as though Trump’s policies in regards to immigration are extremely harmful towards all those living in America. They create a mentality of them vs. us and lead to dissension among the people of America,” said Nadia Hameed from Pakistan, a senior at SUNY Old Westbury. Since his presidency and anti-immigrant policies, Trump has alarmed many immigrant families.

Dr. Laura Anker, distinguished service professor and director of First-Year Experience, works closely with immigrant students at SUNY OW.  She said that her students are much more frightened since the election and the Trump policies. She added that most students at OW have the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if they are  undocumented, which was the Obama policy. She added, “Many of them were very frightened that they were going to lose DACA. Even if that has not happened yet, they’re frightened for their undocumented parents.” DACA gives these students the ability to work and drive in the United States.

“If Trump takes that away as he said he would, they would lose all of those things,” Anker said. It is Anker’s belief that the level of fear both from the Trump policy and the incidents of bias and hate have drastically increased. DACA students  and undocumented students, are still accepted as New York State residents as long as they prove their residency.

The process for proving residency at Old Westbury is problematic. The faculty just passed a resolution asking that it be simplified. According to Anker, the school often asks for information that students often feel threatened to give.

Anker shares the heartbreaking story of an OW student’s family. A Muslim student explained to Anker how her little sister, a fifth grader, experienced racism first hand. In the fifth grader’s class, the teacher asked students to talk about their communities and their backgrounds. The little sister explained that she is Muslim and the next day she  had no more friends. According to Anker, her friend came to her and said, “I can’t play with you, I can’t come near you, my mother is going to ask that I’m not in your class anymore because Muslims are terrorists and I can’t play with them.”

An OW  student who wished to remain anonymous was born in Guyana and moved to the U.S with her family when she was four-years-old. The student is horrified by Trump’s policies, “Imagine me being here for so many years and being told I have to go back. I don’t even know what that place is,” the student said. “I don’t understand how anyone can tell me that I don’t belong here.” The policy has affected this student’s mother who has sacrificed everything to move to America.

Asad, a Muslim from Pakistan is a freshman at Old Westbury. He moved to the United States two years ago. He said, “For a moment there I thought to myself, ‘Do other Americans share the same views as Trump? Does everyone hate immigrants and Mexicans?’” He  added that he had never experienced racism first hand which is why he is not afraid of the Trump policies or to live in America.

Another freshmen at SUNY OW, Marvin, is from El Salvador. He is staying in America as permanent resident holding a green card. He shared, “My family is nervous, but there’s nothing we can do but expect the worst.”

Manuela, a freshmen at OW, came from Columbia when she was 13-years-old. Manuela’s mother was desperate to leave Columbia as she was convinced she could make a better living in the United States. She emphasized that her family tried very hard to move to the U.S. In her opinion, “Trump’s Immigration policy is very ignorant.” Her family is terrified. “My father has been here for nineteen years and we have been here for 16. This is our home. This is the place we’ve given everything to and worked hard.” She added, “We are not criminals. All we want is to finally be treated equal…that is very hard under Trump’s presidency.”

Immigrants at Old Westbury all agree that Old Westbury feels “extremely safe.” Manuela states, “I truly do feel safe here, and that is thanks to the wonderful and supportive staff here.”

Dr. Anker’s goal is to make students feel safe on campus.  She said says that unlike a regular police station, the university police have agreed not to take finger prints so that students do not run into immigration difficulties. If there is an immigration issue with a student, the police cannot enter the school without a warrant from a judge.