University of San Diego

Dear USD Campus Community:

Last Tuesday, many of us gathered on Paseo de Colachis for a wonderful USD tradition, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. This year’s theme—light out of darkness—recognizes the power that flows from the manner in which each of us is called to bring light to our world, especially to those places where it is most needed. However, light out of darkness is not merely the theme of the event, but one of the primary reasons our university exists.

I am convinced that as an engaged, contemporary Catholic university, our light shines brightest when we strive to fulfill our vision of addressing humanity’s urgent challenges. Moreover, our unique position as an international gateway and the only Catholic university in the nation situated near an international border compels us to respond to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in our community—a community not limited by that border. Especially today, the second day of Advent and the second evening of Hanukkah and the start of this season when we light menorahs, Advent wreaths and Christmas trees as symbols of hope, we are called to open our minds, hearts and hands to the Central American migrants seeking asylum, doing what we can to bring light and hope to them. Perhaps even more importantly, we are called to learn about their stories and journeys so that we might come to see them as our brothers and sisters—part of our one human family.

The principles of access and inclusion have deep roots on this campus, and over the years, there have been many actions in support of these beliefs. As a member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, I want to reaffirm that the University of San Diego is unequivocal in its support of its international, DACA and other immigrant student and employee populations. This commitment is why I created the Presidential Immigration Task Force in 2016. This Task Force, chaired by the USD Dean of Law, Stephen Ferruolo, was created to continually examine USD’s activities to support and protect our undocumented immigrant and refugee students, employees and family members as well as others experiencing marginalization, including international students.

Earlier this semester, a specific issue highlighted the need for greater dialogue on our campus and the important role of the Task Force. At that time, the university was approached by the Department of Homeland Security to participate in a career fair at USD. When news of the potential visit by DHS spread across campus, there was concern expressed by some that the university was neither living up to its mission nor its commitment to protect all students, regardless of their citizenship status. At that time, members of the senior administration met with students and listened to their concerns. While neither DHS nor any of its agencies participated in the career fair, the dialogue that ensued has led to a greater commitment by the university to improve timely communication regarding issues that might impact immigrant students. Since that time, the Task Force has continued to meet with members of our university community to listen to their concerns and improve the way we serve some of the most vulnerable among us.

I am particularly grateful for the work being done on these issues by the Changemaker Hub, the Mulvaney Center, Student Affairs, the Trans-Border Institute, University Ministry and other campus units. They are working closely with partner organizations in Tijuana to offer direct support to the migrants. Moreover, along with faculty members, the group has organized a teach-in that will take place on Thursday, Dec. 13, from 12:15 to 2 p.m. in UC Forums A and B. If you would like to learn more about the situation at the border, find a list of other campus events addressing the crisis, as well as discover how you can contribute to those in need, please visit our National Dialogue on Immigration website.

There are some people who may believe that by advocating for the care of asylum seekers, I am suggesting the United States open its borders and disregard any national security issues. That is not my message. Rather, my message is to ask us all to open our hearts and view the current situation in Tijuana for what it is, a humanitarian crisis, and one we can positively impact. While the scale of this crisis is daunting, let us do our best to hold on to the hope of the holiday season, sharing our light to overcome the darkness.


James T. Harris III, D.Ed.

University of San Diego

Office of the President
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492