By Erin Shanahan and Theresa Schliep
Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, joined more than 70 other leaders in Catholic higher education affirming the university’s commitment to teaching students who entered the United States illegally as children.
The statement, originally issued Wednesday by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and published in The Washington Post, was released following several claims by President-elect Donald Trump, a former Fordham student, to tighten illegal immigration laws and deport undocumented residents. Jesuit universities participating in this pledge include Fairfield University and Boston College.
McShane did not provide comment to The Fordham Ram, but did send a university wide email on Thursday explaining his support of the statement.
In the email, McShane said that Fordham’s mission is one dedicated to immigrants, and alluded to the founder of the university, John Joseph Hughes, an Irish-born archbishop.
“Because he was himself an immigrant and the victim of prejudice and discrimination both in Ireland and in the United States, and because he was the bishop of a largely immigrant community that suffered from the same discrimination from which he had suffered, Archbishop Hughes was passionately devoted to America’s immigrants. Therefore, when he founded Saint John’s College (Fordham University) in 1841, he did so to create a school that would make it possible for the immigrants whom he served to receive an education that would both confound their enemies and enable them to take their rightful place in American society.”
Though the demographics of Fordham have changed over time, McShane said, Fordham has “kept faith with its founder’s vision and committed itself in a special way to serving immigrants and their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.”
In his email, McShane said he has a personal interest in maintaining the university’s “historic mission of welcoming and serving new Americans.”
“I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that as the grandson of four Irish immigrants and the son of a first-generation college graduate whose life was transformed by the education that he received here at Fordham, the university’s devotion to and service of generations of new Americans is especially close to my heart,” he said.
The educators referred to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), established in an executive decision by the Obama administration in 2012. DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who arrived before their 16th birthday to bypass deportation and obtain a work permit. Trump pledged in his presidential campaign to “immediately terminate” Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties” which would include the DACA.
The educators write that students who currently qualify for DACA should be able to continue their studies without interruption.
“Undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties,” the statement said. “We pledge to support these students — through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”
Last week, more than 200 college and university leaders signed a similar statement in solidarity with undocumented students, of which McShane did not sign. The memo had also urged that the Trump administration uphold and expand DACA.
Several members of the university are pleased with McShane’s decision to defend undocumented citizens.
“I’m glad that McShane and other leaders in higher education are making it known that they are mobilizing to protect a vulnerable student population at a time of uncertainty in immigration policy,” said Dorothy Day Center Social Justice Leader, Jameson Connors, FCRH ’18.
The United Student Government (USG) also supported McShane’s signature.
“I think that this is a great message of support for students in our community and around the county that may be feeling scared about their safety and education,” said USG President Daniel Stroie, GSB ’17. “I commend Fr. McShane and the other Presidents for proudly supporting and standing with their students.”
Here is the full text of McShane’s email on Thursday, including the statement by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities:
To the Members of the Fordham Community,At this moment when our undocumented students are most vulnerable and afraid, I am writing to you to inform you that I have signed three documents that I hope make it clear that Fordham sees and embraces undocumented students as valued and loved members of our community, that Fordham stands with them, and that we will do all we can to be effective advocates for them. Since my signature signals not only my endorsement, but the endorsement of the entire University community of the sentiments contained in them, I assure you that I did not sign them lightly. Rather, I did so only after a great deal of research and prayer.
Because he was himself an immigrant and the victim of prejudice and discrimination both in Ireland and in the United States, and because he was the bishop of a largely immigrant community that suffered from the same discrimination from which he had suffered, Archbishop Hughes was passionately devoted to America’s immigrants. Therefore, when he founded Saint John’s College (Fordham University) in 1841, he did so to create a school that would make it possible for the immigrants whom he served to receive an education that would both confound their enemies and enable them to take their rightful place in American society.
For its entire 175-year history, Fordham has kept faith with its founder’s vision and committed itself in a special way to serving immigrants and their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. To be sure, the ethnic identities of the students whom Fordham has served have changed in the course of time. Through the decades, however, the University has never deviated from its historic mission of welcoming and serving new Americans, a mission that has shaped and defined us, and a mission that has enriched us beyond measure. I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that as the grandson of four Irish immigrants and the son of a first-generation college graduate whose life was transformed by the education that he received here at Fordham, the University’s devotion to and service of generations of new Americans is especially close to my heart.
Of course, Archbishop Hughes’s legacy is not the only reason that the University has always been drawn to the service of new Americans. Far from it. Our Catholic roots remind us of the Gospel mandate to serve those at the peripheries, and to treat them as cherished sisters and brothers. Our Jesuit identity places upon us the sacred responsibility to treat every student in our care with cura personalis, that is to say, we are called and challenged to treat every Fordham student with reverence, respect and affirming love.
In light of the powerful forces that have shaped us, we can never turn away from those members of our community who are most vulnerable. To do so would be a betrayal of both the ideals that we hold most dear and the sacred mission to which we have devoted ourselves for the past 175 years. We simply cannot do that. We will not do that.
Below is the complete text of the statement written by the presidents of the member schools of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), and links to the 2013 AJCU statement, the Pomona Statement, and the statement of the member schools of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
As I close, let me ask you to pray for all of our students, and especially our undocumented students. I assure you that you all remain in my prayers.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.
Statement of AJCU Presidents – November 2016
As Presidents of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities we feel spiritually and morally compelled to raise a collective voice confirming our values and commitments as Americans and educators. We represent colleges and universities from across our nation with more than 215,000 students and more than 21,000 faculty, and more than 2 million living alumni.
Grounded in our Catholic and Jesuit mission, we are guided by our commitment to uphold the dignity of every person, to work for the common good of our nation, and to promote a living faith that works for justice. We see our work of teaching, scholarship and the formation of young minds and spirits as a sacred trust.
That trust prompts us to labor for solidarity among all people, and especially with and for the poor and marginalized of our society. That trust calls us to embrace the entire human family, regardless of their immigration status—or religious allegiance. And experience has shown us that our communities are immeasurably enriched by the presence, intelligence, and committed contributions of undocumented students, as well as of faculty and staff of every color and from every faith tradition.
Therefore, we will continue working:
- To protect to the fullest extent of the law undocumented students on our campuses;
- To promote retention of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA);
- To support and stand with our students, faculty and staff regardless of their faith traditions;
- To preserve the religious freedoms on which our nation was founded.
As we conclude this Year of Mercy, we make our own the aims enunciated by Pope Francis: “Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.”
We hope that this statement will inspire members of our University communities, as well as the larger national community, to promote efforts at welcome, dialogue, and reconciliation among all that share our land. We welcome further conversation and commit ourselves to modeling the kind of discourse and debate that are at the heart of our nation’s ideals. And we promise to bring the best resources of our institutions – of intellect, reflection, and service–to bear in the task of fostering understanding in the United States at this particular time in our history.”