Why Our Universities Must Provide Sanctuary to Undocumented Immigrants

In the age of Trump, it’s more important than ever for our learning institutions to join the fight against racism and xenophobia.

Alecia Richards November 18, 2016

Immigrant Youth Justice League supporters gathered at Daley Center Plaza in Chicago on March 10, 2011 in support of the the Illinois DREAM Act. The bill, into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on August 2, 2011, increased undocumented students access to financial assistance for college. (People's World / Flicker CC BY-NC 2.0)

On Novem­ber 16, stu­dents at more than 80 uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and high schools nation­wide staged walk-outs, sit-ins and ral­lies urg­ing their admin­is­tra­tions to pro­tect immi­grants at risk of depor­ta­tion by the incom­ing Don­ald Trump admin­is­tra­tion. The nation­wide protests, which took place under the ban­ner of the hash­tag #Sanc­tu­aryCam­pus, called on uni­ver­si­ties to join the ranks of cities that lim­it their coop­er­a­tion with the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE).

Universities also have a special ability, and thus a special responsibility, to create safe spaces for undocumented people and everyone threatened by our soon-to-be president. Both students and workers must be able to participate in their university’s community without fearing for their safety.

Despite Trump’s cam­paign pledge to cut fed­er­al fund­ing to such sanc­tu­ary cities,” dozens have pub­licly reaf­firmed their sta­tus as a safe haven for undoc­u­ment­ed and immi­grant peo­ple in the wake of his elec­tion. But that isn’t enough: Uni­ver­si­ties also have a spe­cial abil­i­ty, and thus a spe­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty, to cre­ate safe spaces for undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple and every­one threat­ened by our soon-to-be pres­i­dent. Both stu­dents and work­ers must be able to par­tic­i­pate in their university’s com­mu­ni­ty with­out fear­ing for their safety.

Trump cam­paigned on xeno­pho­bia and dehu­man­iza­tion of the peo­ple whom he calls ille­gals.” Through­out his run, he promised to deport mil­lions of undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple, and has dou­bled down on this pledge since win­ning elec­tion. He is expect­ed to over­turn Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA), the Oba­ma pro­gram that grant­ed work per­mits and tem­po­rary relief from depor­ta­tion to hun­dreds of thou­sands of young immi­grants. And Trump’s divi­sive rhetoric has already led to an increase in hate inci­dents fueled by Islam­o­pho­bia, xeno­pho­bia and racism.

In the face of these threats, col­lege stu­dents are tak­ing a stand. At more than 100 schools—includ­ing UCLA, Ari­zona State, Har­vard and North­west­ern, where I am a stu­dent — orga­niz­ers have called on their admin­is­tra­tions to declare a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus. These efforts are a show of com­radery with our undoc­u­ment­ed broth­ers and sis­ters, as well as a denun­ci­a­tion of the hatred and intol­er­ance that has been fueled by Trump in recent months.

ICE’s cur­rent poli­cies lim­it enforce­ment in sen­si­tive areas,” includ­ing reli­gious cen­ters, schools and hos­pi­tals. In these areas, ICE agents must avoid apprehend[ing], arrest[ing], interview[ing], or search[ing] an indi­vid­ual, or… surveil[ling] an indi­vid­ual for enforce­ment pur­pos­es” with­out per­mis­sion from the prop­er author­i­ties on cam­pus. This is why the dec­la­ra­tion of sanc­tu­ary cam­pus­es by admin­is­tra­tion is impor­tant. It shows an unwill­ing­ness to coop­er­ate with offi­cials whose sole pur­pose is to detain and deport mem­bers of our community.

On Wednes­day, Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty respond­ed to stu­dent protests by reaf­firm­ing its com­mit­ment to undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents. At a board of trustees meet­ing, Chan­cel­lor Tim­o­thy White said, ““Unless direct­ed by Cal­i­for­nia gov­ern­ment code or required by law, the CSU will not enter into an agree­ment with state or local law enforce­ment agen­cies, ICE, or any oth­er fed­er­al agency for the enforce­ment of fed­er­al immi­gra­tion law.” Uni­ver­si­ty police will also fail to coop­er­ate with ICE. This uni­ver­si­ty has dis­played the uni­ty affirmed by cities and has set a prece­dent for oth­er col­leges in Amer­i­ca.. This uni­ver­si­ty has dis­played the uni­ty affirmed by cities and has set a prece­dent for oth­er col­leges in America.

At North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, where I am a sen­a­tor in Asso­ci­at­ed Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment, we have intro­duced leg­is­la­tion to the Asso­ci­at­ed Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment with the goal of affirm­ing the university’s com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing the safe­ty of undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents and work­ers. A peti­tion to the uni­ver­si­ty gar­nered more than 700 sig­na­tures from fac­ul­ty, staff, and stu­dents. A wide range of stu­dent groups then co-authored the leg­is­la­tion, includ­ing For Mem­bers Only, Northwestern’s black stu­dent union; the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Coali­tion; the Quest Schol­ars Net­work and the Immi­grant Jus­tice Project. The leg­is­la­tion has been spon­sored by stu­dent sen­a­tors from all polit­i­cal parties.

Yes­ter­day, stu­dent gov­ern­ment offi­cials met with Northwestern’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Stu­dent Affairs to fur­ther dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus. If the res­o­lu­tions pass at the next sen­ate meet­ing on Novem­ber 30, stu­dent offi­cials will recon­vene with fac­ul­ty to dis­cuss enactment.

North­west­ern has already expe­ri­enced hate inci­dents by Trump sup­port­ers on cam­pus. In March, two stu­dents spray paint­ed anti-Semit­ic images on a chapel, and we have seen the emer­gence of oth­er racist, homo­pho­bic and Islam­o­pho­bic behav­ior. Like oth­er cam­pus­es, we rec­og­nize the way the Trump cam­paign and results of the elec­tion fur­ther endan­ger undoc­u­ment­ed and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble people.

North­west­ern Pres­i­dent Mor­ton Shapiro pub­licly expressed his sup­port of a safe space for all mem­bers of the North­west­ern com­mu­ni­ty in an August 25 op-ed for the Los Ange­les Times. Today, the uni­ver­si­ty respond­ed to the stu­dent peti­tion with a state­ment assur­ing us that North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty is strong­ly com­mit­ted to being a wel­com­ing, inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty. That com­mit­ment has not changed as a result of the recent elec­tion, and it will not.”

But the uni­ver­si­ty must do more to live up to this com­mit­ment. The co-authors and spon­sors of the leg­is­la­tion are call­ing on our admin­is­tra­tion to take our show of sol­i­dar­i­ty one step fur­ther: we are also call­ing for an actu­al dec­la­ra­tion of a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus, as well as more trans­par­ent need-blind admis­sions process for undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, the same con­sid­er­a­tion of uni­ver­si­ty-fund­ed finan­cial aid for undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, a resource cen­ter specif­i­cal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to aid­ing undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, a mech­a­nism to aid undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents in report­ing hate crimes to the appro­pri­ate law enforce­ment agen­cies and a hir­ing process for new hires that will lim­it the poten­tial for appli­cants to be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against due to their nation­al ori­gin, cit­i­zen­ship, or immi­gra­tion status.

Through offi­cial­ly adopt­ing these poli­cies, the pres­i­dent and uni­ver­si­ty fac­ul­ty can make good on their promise to ensure a safe, inclu­sive work­place and learn­ing envi­ron­ment. At a time where the safe­ty and well­be­ing of mar­gin­al­ized groups is at stake, we need more than PR-savvy op-eds full of emp­ty promis­es and pla­cat­ing rhetoric. We need to proac­tive­ly coun­ter­act Trump’s divi­sive­ness with a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty. The liveli­hood of our undoc­u­ment­ed and immi­grant peers depends on it.

Ale­cia Richards is a fall 2016 edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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