Words and images by Kyle Martin
About 200 students staged a walkout Thursday afternoon, calling for UNT and TWU to become sanctuary campuses, protecting undocumented immigrants attending the university.
Organizers of the demonstration, prior to the march, gathered over 1,000 signatures on a petition to declare UNT a sanctuary campus and used this as a call to action. Demonstrators began a public forum at the Onstead Promenade near the center of campus around 12 p.m. and later marched through campus to the downtown square.
Denton Police aided marchers, blocking off roads as they moved toward the square. Protesters were calling for the university to allow to protect undocumented immigrants from President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, also known as DACA.
“We are demonstrating that we are equally united, that we are all one,” said UNT behavioral analysis freshman Raquel Elias, marching in support of the movement to make UNT a sanctuary campus. “It’s going to help the students who are most vulnerable and it’s going to keep us diverse because that’s what UNT is.”
DACA is an executive act put in place by President Obama which has slowed the deportation of undocumented immigrants from the country, specifically aiding immigrants that are currently enrolled in school and/or are going through the process to become legal residents. The act does not protect those who have committed felonies, are repeat offenders and/or pose a threat to national security.
“The people united will never be divided,” demonstrators chanted, marching towards the downtown square on Hickory Street.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Deferred action is a discretionary determination to defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion. Deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual.”
Finley Graves, UNT provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that President Neal Smatresk will hold a town hall public forum meeting to address concerns and issues that the community wants to speak on. The time and place of the meeting, to take place in January, has yet to be announced. Graves, as a UNT official, offered his support of students’ right to their freedom of speech.
“Walking out of their classes, of course, I’m the vice president of academic affairs so I hate to see them miss their classes, but they certainly have a right to express themselves,” Graves said.
Texas governor Greg Abbott has expressed that he will not support the declarations of sanctuary campuses and will strip funding of such campuses.
Kevin Roden, City Councilman for District 1 said in response, "They aren't learning the lesson of the frack ban. They are forcing the hands of lawmakers to do something stupid this legislative session that will end up doing more harm to their campuses than whatever they perceive to be the problem now. The Texas legislature is not known for their moderation in the face of such standoffs."
Autumn Tyler, a UNT sociology senior, attended the rally in support of her peers and her friends, some of whom were organizers to the protest. She wouldn’t have class until later in the day and sacrificed her time prior to class, marching from campus to the downtown square to show her solidarity with her fellow peers and colleagues, “Education is freedom. Education is a basic human right,” Tyler said. “Everyone should be able to have access to it. By taking that away, you’re taking away someone’s freedom.”