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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Anonymizing Undocumented Students

Bella Rios

Bella Rios was a 2018-2019 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

The school news editor, Anthony, assigns Jessica, an avid student reporter, a story about the school’s status as a sanctuary campus. Sanctuary status means the university will limit its cooperation with immigration enforcement and protect the identities of its undocumented students.

Jessica contacts her peers who are either involved in immigration advocacy or lack legal documentation. She is referred to Adam, an undocumented student. Only Adam’s closest friends know about his immigration status.

In an interview with Jessica, he shares that he immigrated to the US as a child when his family fled gang violence in El Salvador. He did not realize he was undocumented until he tried apply for federal scholarships to pay for his college tuition; his parents revealed that he did not qualify as he lacked legal status.

Adam talks about his daily anxiety due to the constant fear of deportation, especially amidst political rhetoric that vilifies undocumented immigrants. He says he hides his immigration status out of fear that a fellow student may report him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Jessica wants to include Adam’s testimonial in her article to highlight the impact of immigration policy on students. She believes it is important to include underrepresented voices because their perspectives are often excluded from public discourse.

At the end of the interview, Adam asks for his name to be omitted from the article. Jessica pauses. She wants to promote trust among her readers by avoiding anonymous sources yet does not want to jeopardize Adam’s safety.

Particularly in an era of fake news, she understands that the public may find the use of anonymous sources suspicious. She also recognizes that readers might accuse her of political bias if her source remains anonymous.

Discussion Questions

1) What is Jessica’s responsibility to her source?
2) Is it appropriate to grant confidentiality under these circumstances?
3) What should Jessica do in this situation?
4) What are the alternatives to what Adam requested?

Jun 7, 2019