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Information for immigrant students and Massachusetts colleges and universities on immigration enforcement

Know your rights as an immigrant student

Whether you are undocumented, studying under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, or under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), you need to know your rights. Neither federal, nor Massachusetts law prohibits you from enrolling in a college or university. There are no legal restrictions on your ability to fully participate in the campus community and extracurricular programs.

Recommended campus policies to support immigrant students

Many colleges and universities, or Institutions of Higher Education (IHE), have declared themselves “sanctuary campuses” or have already expressed a desire to support immigrant students. If your college or university does not identify as a sanctuary campus, don’t worry. That institution can support you without calling itself a sanctuary campus.

IHEs should provide clear and accurate information to you regarding admission and enrollment. They should provide information for students like you and consider providing staff training to increase faculty sensitivity to issues that affect immigrant students’ ability to successfully complete degrees and participate in campus life.

IHEs should provide immigrant students with special advisors to help inform you on relevant internships and scholarships. Ideally, this support would be separate from international student support.

Immigration detention or deportation activities on campus

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recognized IHEs as sensitive locations where enforcement activities like searches and arrests are not allowed. The only time when ICE can engage in enforcement activities at sensitive locations is under special circumstances or if they have prior approval.

For more information on sensitive locations, visit the ICE website.

Immigration officers can be present on campus even though IHEs are recognized as sensitive locations for reasons other than immigrant deportation or detention.

For example, you may be one of approximately 60,000 international students studying in Massachusetts on F-1, J-1, or similar visas. As part of administering international student visas, immigration officers may visit campuses to meet with students and staff.

The Attorney General’s Office does not believe that ICE intends to change its sensitive locations policy. However, due to increased immigration enforcement in Massachusetts and around the country, IHEs should take proactive steps to prepare for immigration detention or deportation activities on campus.

Potential protocols if an immigration officer requests access to an immigrant student

In the case of an ICE agent asking to interview someone on campus, IHEs should develop a protocol such as this:

  • Ask the immigration officer for his or her name, identification number, and the name of the agency with which he or she is affiliated;
  • Ask the immigration officer for a copy of any warrant, subpoena, or court order he or she has;
  • Tell the immigration officer that you are not attempting to obstruct his or her actions, but you are not authorized to respond to the request and need to contact the appropriate person on campus before you can provide access; and
  • Ask the immigration officer to wait outside while you contact the IHE’s campus police, legal counsel, or another appropriate person.

Know the difference between public and private spaces

IHEs generally can’t keep immigration officers from coming into public parts of campus. But, IHEs can restrict them from accessing private spaces without a judicial warrant.

On public campuses, private spaces could include lecture halls while classes are in session, faculty and staff offices, dormitories, research laboratories, kitchens, locker rooms, and maintenance areas.

Protections granted by federal privacy law

In general, federal law prohibits state and local government from creating policies that restrict sharing information about your immigration status with federal immigration officials. However, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) protects personally identifiable information contained in your education records from being shared with third parties without a court order. FERPA applies to IHEs that receive federal funds through the U.S. Department of Education, including Title IV financial aid.

With few exceptions, IHEs cannot give out personally identifiable information without your written consent.

Under FERPA, IHEs can share information on how to contact you, such as your name, address, phone number, grade level, and dates of attendance, but, your IHE must tell you that it will share this information. This information does not include citizenship or immigration status. The only time an IHE can share personally identifiable information without your consent is if the IHE is subject to a judicial order or subpoena.

How IHEs can protect students’ immigration information

FERPA protects students’ personally identifiable information. For additional protection, IHEs should:

  • Review the information they collect from students to ensure they don’t unnecessarily obtain information about a student’s immigration or citizenship status without reason
  • Limit the information they categorize as “directory” by excluding information that could be related to citizenship or immigration, such as birthplace or language spoken at home
  • Allow students to opt out of disclosure of directory information
  • Provide training to all faculty and staff on privacy policies
  • Review existing contracts with immigration agencies regarding information sharing

How IHEs should involve campus police

IHEs should ensure that their campus police policies and practices are consistent with the Supreme Judicial Court decision in Lunn v. Commonwealth, which held that law enforcement officers may not hold an individual “solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer.”

Immigrant students could be more willing to come forward with information about crime or other concerns on campus when they do not view campus police as a threat.

Further resources

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