The digital letter was drafted Monday after a group of alumni of Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa said they were distressed by Nielsen’s vigorous defense during a combative news conference Monday of the separations of migrant families crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico. The separations were a result of the Trump administration’s new hard-line immigration policies, which are implemented in large part by the Department of Homeland Security.
“After the press conference we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is real and who is this woman and what is she doing in regards to everything we were taught?’ ” said Emily Dolgin, a senior at Barnard College and a 2015 graduate of the high school.
The more than 600 signatories to the open letter include members of every class since 1978, as well as alumni from as far back as the class of 1969. It has also been signed by dozens of current students, parents and family members of alumni, and by faculty and former faculty, including a former school headmaster.
The letter cites the school’s creed: “Berkeley puts people in the world who make a positive difference.”
“Given the facts at hand, we do not have faith in Secretary Nielsen to live the values of our alma mater or to make any decisions concerning outcomes for children at the border,” the letter reads. “ We recognize that it would be easy to dismiss our request as absurd or out of your purview — it would be, in many ways, disadvantageous to Berkeley to chime in. But morality transcends respectability, and today children are removed from the protection of their parents to instead be kept in cages … by a graduate of our institution.”
The letter is among the many expressions of the intense emotion generated around the country as information has emerged about the grim reality faced by children separated from their parents. A photo of a child crying as her mother is patted down, a recording of a chorus of children sobbing, reportedly in one of the shelters, and countless reports documenting the practice — and some of the political considerations that have been reported to be behind it — helped vault the issue to national prominence. Concerns have been raised that some parents will never be reunited with their children, because of the sprawling bureaucratic apparatus in which the separations unfolded.
Berkeley Prep, which publicly congratulated Nielsen — a 1990 graduate — when she was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in December, has declined to weigh in on the emotional and fraught political issue of the separations.
“As a school, Berkeley’s charge is not and cannot be to take a position on non-education-related governmental policy or action,” the school said in a statement.
Berkeley Prep also noted in its statement that its mission is to instill in students “a strong sense of morality, ethics, and social responsibility.”
Dolgin and 2012 graduate Richard Stull pointed out that every student takes a mandatory ethics class and said alumni were disappointed by the school’s reticence.
“For them to say that it would be against their policy to be against this thing runs counter to the idea of teaching ethics,” Stull said. “You can’t teach ethics if you don’t practice them.”
The letter is coupled with an effort on the platform GoFundMe to raise money for the Texas nonprofit RAICES, which works with refugees and migrants on the border. Organizers have raised more than $10,000 of a goal of $25,640 — the amount of the high school’s yearly tuition.