New privacy protocol designed to protect undocumented students

by Annika Hom / Beacon Correspondent • April 12, 2017

Concerns about the safety of undocumented students led the Office of the General Counsel to release a protocol this month that guides Emerson employees on how to interact with government officials.

The protocol outlines for administrators what to do if a government official of any rank asks them for private information about students, staff, or faculty.

The protocol was drafted two months ago in response to faculty and students who were concerned that immigration officials would ask administrators and faculty for students’ citizenship papers, said Deputy General Counsel Meredith Ainbinder. Students without documentation could possibly be deported under the current presidential administration.

Freshman political communication major Matthew Enriquez Manrique said he believes the protocol is a necessary step for undocumented persons on campus.

“It’s a significant group on campus that no one really pays a lot of mind to,” Enriquez said.

Deep reporting professor and senior journalist-in-residence Cindy Rodriguez said she is also nervous about immigration officials asking for student information.  

“We’ve seen outrageous acts by [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” Rodriguez said.  “I do worry about [raids]. I feel horrible knowing that students need to have that burden, that stress put on them.”

Ainbinder said the protocol helps faculty determine the legitimacy of both the claimed government official’s identity and the need for the information they are requesting.

“It’s so people don’t have to ask what to do if [an information request] happens to them for the first time,” said Ainbinder.

The protocol does not specifically address undocumented persons because the OGC wanted a draft that could apply to any situation involving third-party information requests. For example, an FBI agent that wants a background check on an Emerson faculty member would need to follow the same procedure.

The Emerson College Police Department and OGC were already using the outlined procedure, but the lack of an official document made it difficult for faculty to reference, Ainbinder said. As a result, the OGC, ECPD, and members of the Office of Internationalization of Global Engagement and the Office of Title IX all worked to create a written draft, Ainbinder said.

Ainbinder said that she believes the simple language of the protocol will help clear up confusion in the future.

According to the protocol, officials need to verify their identity with ECPD. As the official is vetted, ECPD notifies OGC about the request. The Office of the General Counsel then decides how to properly advise faculty in the situation by telling them if it is necessary to respond and how.

Emerson Chief of Police Robert Smith said it is important that the ECPD verifies a requester’s identity first in order to protect students’ personal information from being given to fraudulent government officials.

“Most of the time, [the official is] just doing their job in a legal, responsible manner. But we still go to great lengths to find out who they are,” Smith said. “Identity theft is rampant and telephone scams are getting more sophisticated all the time. That’s why we go the extra step.”

Ainbinder noted that administrators and faculty are not required to release information about students without a court subpoena unless the OGC deems the request legitimate.  

Smith said he doesn’t expect many information requests, and that it’s highly unlikely that a student would be asked to provide information about themselves or others to an official. He said that most faculty already act in ways that protect students’ privacy.

“Most administrators I know, [and officers at] ECPD too, are very reluctant to talk about students,” Smith said.  

Rodriguez said she would not solicit information about undocumented students, and would even try to notify them of an immigration official’s presence.

“[The student] should know right away that this is happening,” Rodriguez said.

Ainbinder and Smith both said they hope the protocol will decrease stress regarding future information requests and make students, faculty, and administrators feel that their information is protected.  

“We just want to make people feel like we support them,” Ainbinder said.  “We’re here to do the difficult work of dealing with requests and legal matters. It’s not something that people have to face on their own.”