On Sanctuary Campuses

Ten days after the election of Donald J. Trump, Portland State University and Reed College became the first declared “sanctuary campuses” in the United States. To date, seven additional colleges and universities have made similar moves to protect their undocumented students. Sanctuary campuses are based on the earlier idea of sanctuary cities: cities that have made public their intention to disregard federal immigration laws and to refrain from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) track down undocumented residents. In essence, sanctuary cities, and now sanctuary campuses, do the bare minimum that is legally required of them when dealing with illegal immigration. In addition to refusing to help ICE, sanctuary campuses offer financial, legal, and emotional support to undocumented students. Some of these support services go even further, offering unique distance-learning opportunities for students who are deported. These measures to protect students are widely supported by liberal student bodies, indicated by the uptick in protests over the issue since the November election, as well as university faculty, with the American Association of University Professors announcing support for colleges and universities implementing sanctuary programs. Over twenty campuses have seen student protests in favor of adopting sanctuary status, including Stanford, Yale, and Dartmouth.

Protestors demonstrate in favor of “sanctuary” policies. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Square News)

Protestors demonstrate in favor of “sanctuary” policies. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Square News)

Despite the large support within the academic community for policies that aim to protect undocumented students, alongside the Trump Administration’s stated “low priority” of deporting illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, sanctuary campuses are being targeted by lawmakers. In response to the aforementioned announcements by nine colleges and universities, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced legislation to block federal financial aid funding from any schools that do not cooperate with ICE and help enforce federal immigration laws. The move could virtually stop the sanctuary campus movement in its tracks, forcing colleges and universities to decide between supporting their undocumented students or maintaining access to billions of dollars in financial aid funding for their other students. The plan, which Hunter described as, “not telling colleges who they can and can’t accept for enrollment, but [telling them] whatever decision they make will either mean they receive federal money or they don’t,” would be administered by the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS would track the development of sanctuary campuses and share that information with the Department of Education. The Department of Education would then be required to cut off federal payments for student loans to students of those institutions.

On the state level, Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas are all moving to cut state funding to any sanctuary campuses within their borders. With over 80 campuses nationwide calling for sanctuary campus status, these states have taken a “not in my backyard” approach. There is a great deal of support from both the lawmakers and their governors in these states. While no concrete action has been taken yet, all three states have plans to introduce laws within the coming months.

Studies from the Pew Research center estimate that over 200,000 illegal immigrants currently attend university in the United States, representing roughly 1% of all college students in the United States. A significantly lower percentage of illegal immigrants of standard college age (18-24) attend college: only 49% vs 71% of US residents. The population of illegal immigrants are disproportionately located in the states of New York, Florida, Texas, and California. Sanctuary campuses, however, are located nationwide, not necessarily in conjunction with illegal immigrant populations.

In early January, President Phil Hanlon responded to a petition offered by CoFIRED (Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and DREAMers), the organization which successfully petitioned the Library of Congress to change official government language from “illegal alien/immigrant” to “unauthorized immigrant.” According to The Dartmouth, CoFIRED’s petition called for the College to “offer legal and mental health support to those affected by Trump’s election; create a pool of funds for undocumented students and their families to pay for legal counsel and DACA fees; and provide sensitivity training for staff and faculty on the rights of undocumented students and resources to protect those rights.” Hanlon’s response to the petition was mixed; he announced “commitment to all members of our community regardless of citizenship.” In addition, Hanlon’s school-wide email explained that the College “has for years been a strong supporter of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), which protects from deportation some undocumented individuals.” Hanlon goes on to explain how Dartmouth “was one of the few universities to file a U.S. Supreme Court friend-of-the-court brief supporting DACA’s expansion” and how the College’s “admissions and financial aid policies do not consider domestic applicants’ immigration status.” In essence, Hanlon’s response affirms a commitment to the philosophical idea of the sanctuary campus, but still maintains the supremacy of federal law as he states that the administration “will work within the bounds of the law to mitigate any effects on our students caused by possible revisions to DACA and other immigration policies.”

Fellow Ivy League schools Princeton and Brown have also adopted an anti-sanctuary position, refusing to flaunt federal law while affirming commitment to illegal immigrant students in other realms. President Chris Eisgruber of Princeton was quoted by Campus Reform as stating that “Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.” President Christina Paxson of Brown echoed this sentiment, stating that “Private universities and colleges do not have such protection to offer legal sanctuary from members of law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement… While we wish we could offer absolute protection to members of our community who are threatened by possible changes in policy, it would be irresponsible to promise protections that we cannot legally deliver.” Though both public and private universities lack any legal authority to ignore federal law and defy immigration officials, withheld federal funding poses a much more pressing issue for public institutions.

It seems, however, that the idea of sanctuary campuses and cities is already beginning to falter. Less than a week after President Trump’s inauguration, Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered law enforcement officials and correctional facilities in Miami-Dade County to fully cooperate with federal actions regarding immigration. The Trump Administration has also threatened to “strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants,” an unquestionably strong incentive for local government to cooperate. Gimenez, a Cuban-born immigrant himself, clarified his reasoning, stating that “It’s really not worth the risk of losing millions of dollars to the residents of Miami-Dade County in discretionary money from the feds.” Other cities, however, have stood firm; Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and New York (among others) are all prepared to legally fight against any federal action. There have been no comments from any colleges or universities on what their reaction would be if, like the sanctuary cities, their federal funding was cut.