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The Unnecessary Controversy Over “Sanctuary Campuses”

| December 18, 2016

sanctuary campuses

Fears of roundups and deportations are overblown. (US Department of Education)

College students across the country are clamoring for their campuses to be declared “sanctuaries,” where administrators do all they can to protect students and employees from any effort by Republican President-elect Donald Trump to deport unauthorized immigrants or register Muslims.


In response, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican legislators in Arkansas, Georgia and Texas are threatening to cut off funding to any colleges or universities that establish themselves as so-called sanctuary campuses.

But the protests and proposed retaliation are disconnected from current immigration and student privacy laws, legal analysts say, and from what the Trump administration might do any time soon.

There’s no consensus on what it means to be a sanctuary campus. And the word “sanctuary” inflates the relatively minor demands that activists are asking of college administrators.

“The term sanctuary, to me, implies a place where nobody can get you. And I don’t think anybody can promise that,” said Dan Berger, a Massachusetts immigration lawyer who advises colleges.

College campuses have never been raided by federal immigration officials and there’s no indication that they will be, said Michael A. Olivas, acting president of the University of Houston-Downtown in Texas and an expert in higher education and immigration law.

Even if colleges were targeted by the Trump administration, much legal sand could be thrown into the gears before administrators would be enlisted in identifying students for deportation. “I urge everyone … to have some perspective on this,” Olivas said.

The Movement and Its Demands

Trump’s election left many college students feeling scared, sad and angry, particularly students from minority groups who thought they were targeted by the president-elect’s campaign statements.

An immigrants’ rights group called Cosecha started organizing conference calls with student activists at over 100 institutions, who coordinated a national walkout Nov. 16 and began circulating petitions. More colleges and universities have since started protesting without Cosecha’s help.

“We want universities to do everything they can do, legally, in order to protect students,” said Vera Parra, an organizer for Cosecha. The group also wants colleges to protect their employees.

Parra said the protests and petitions are intended to rally people against deportation efforts and prepare colleges for a potential rollback of Obama administration directives that make college campuses — and so-called DREAMers, people brought to the U.S. illegally as children — a low priority for immigration enforcement actions.

Every campus petition is different, but many have been shaped by Cosecha’s suggested demands. The group has seven, only one of which would put colleges at risk of breaking the law.

For instance, Cosecha suggests colleges refuse to share information with immigration officials “to the fullest extent possible by the law.” Federal privacy law already bars colleges from handing over most private student data without the student’s consent, a subpoena or a court order. In any case, institutions don’t usually track which students are undocumented.

stateline logo analysisThe group also suggests colleges forbid campus security from asking about students’ immigration status or taking them into custody for possible deportation. Local police officers, including sworn campus officers, aren’t required to spend time and money on immigration enforcement anyway.   

And it urges federal immigration officials be banned from college-owned property. That could be hard to enforce, said legal adviser Berger, because much of any college campus is public space that anyone can enter. It’s possible, however, to have a policy against allowing federal immigration officials into private areas, such as dormitories, without a warrant.

The only suggestion from Cosecha that would step outside current law asks colleges to not use the federal e-verify system to screen employees. Some states require colleges or all employers to use the system to determine whether employees are unauthorized immigrants. Berger said e-verify is required for federal grants and can benefit international students, so most universities use it.

Josue Reynoza, 19, helped write the sanctuary petition delivered to administrators at Texas State University in San Marcos. It combined Cosecha ideas with others, such as a request for a research committee on vulnerable campus populations and better policies to denounce hate speech. 

Reynoza said that when he heard about the sanctuary campus movement he was eager to get involved. “I have undocumented friends, and I’m also Hispanic,” he said. “It affects many people, and it also affects my friends.”

A Clouded Controversy

Although the sanctuary campus movement is based on small policy tweaks, the term “sanctuary” is politically and emotionally explosive. For advocates, it suggests a compassionate response to injustice. For critics, it indicates a willingness to defy the law to shelter unauthorized immigrants or potential terrorists.

College administrators, wary from the beginning of using a vague word like sanctuary, find themselves in the position of insisting their campuses are not sanctuaries while adopting some of the steps activists call for.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said this month that, while the university can’t legally call itself a “sanctuary,” it’s taking steps associated with the sanctuary movement, such as forbidding campus police to make arrests even if asked to by federal immigration officials.  

Texas State President Denise Trauth has repeatedly said that she will not declare the institution to be a sanctuary campus, but Reynoza said he and his fellow activists have been told the university is implementing most of the steps their petition demanded. 

Reynoza said his group is trying to step away from using the word sanctuary, to get away from the negative connotation it has for some people.

Nobody knows whether or how Trump will act on his campaign promises. In a recent interview with Time magazine, he backtracked on his pledge to roll back President Barack Obama’s temporary work permits for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. 

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump said.

Olivas has written that it’s not possible — or necessary — to create a legal cocoon for students.

Until the incoming administration makes clear what policy changes it will make, Berger advises colleges and universities to help concerned students get access to good legal advice and only authorize certain administrators — such as the school’s general counsel — to talk to federal law enforcement.

After 9/11, many colleges had a policy of sending certain point people to work with federal officials who wanted to interview students from Muslim countries.

“This is not obstructionism,” Berger said. “This is just the fact that administrative warrants, judicial warrants, federal student records, privacy — these are all very complicated issues.”­­­­

–Sophie Quinton, Stateline

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10 Responses for “The Unnecessary Controversy Over “Sanctuary Campuses””

  1. Brian says:

    Unnecessary Controversy indeed – just more shell-shock reaction from the sore loser crowd who were sure of the coronation of Hillary Clinton. Kind of like the uproar with the Electoral College folks getting death threats if they don’t change their votes. Quit embarrassing yourselves, people – it’s gonna be alt right!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Even though I abhor Trump and what he stands for, I know that certain organizations (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and it’s subsidiaries and associated NGO’s) have been importing ” visiting scholars” on student and other educational visas for the past few years. Their interests and goals are more political than scholarly and they assume positions of leadership in supposedly Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Muslim organizations on many colleges and University campuses. And those campuses have seen a not-so-coincidental rise in Anti-Semitic activity and a proliferation of blatantly Anti-Zionist and Anti-American propaganda “courses” and special events–all while disrupting anything and abusing anyone who does not forward their specific agenda. Alas, I think both the extreme Right and the Progressive Left have, within their ranks, too many heedless cooks who are making it their enthusiastic business to poison the broth we all depend on to nourish ourselves.

  3. JasonB says:

    Everything is going to be alright comrades, Putin has everything under control.

  4. Veteran says:

    If a person is not here legally, they should be deported. We are a nation of laws.

  5. Mark says:

    “legally”? Since when have they been concerned with following the law? Be careful, the boogyman will pull your money.

  6. Sherry says:

    We were a nation of “illegal immigrants” long before we were a nation of laws!

    Again, unless you are a full blooded American Indian, you/your ancestors are immigrants! Again. . . do your home work. . . the millions that came through Ellis Island were NOT vetted! Those who held first/second class tickets received ZERO inspection. Even those in 3rd class received extremely cursory examinations for contagious physical illnesses. . . only 2% were not allowed to permanently stay here and automatically become citizens.

  7. Veteran says:

    Back in the Ellis Island days the country needed skilled and factory workers. The world as different then. Those people wanted to assimilate into America. Can’t think of anybody’s grandfather or great grandfather that were terrorists.

  8. koolaid Drinkers says:

    Turn off CNN…if you don’t commit a crime you have nothing to worry about.

  9. Sherry says:

    Really? No Terrorists in the good ole’ days? Here is just a very tiny portion of how the Europeans came here and massacred the true native Americans. . . and then there was the butchering and slavery of Africans, and others as well:

    1539
    Hernando De Soto lands at Tampa Bay, Florida and begins an expedition across the southeast.
    After defeating resisting Timucuan warriors, Hernando De Soto executed 100 of them, in the first large-scale massacre by Europeans on what would become American soil. The event is known as the Napituca Massacre.
    1540
    Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led Mexico’s invasion of the north with an expeditionary force of 300 conquistadors and more than one thousand Indian “allies.” When they reached Cibola, they found not the promised metropolis but “a little, crowded village, looking as if it had been crumpled all up together.” This was the Zuni Pueblo of Hawikuh, whose warriors answered with arrows when Coronado demanded that they swear loyalty to his King. Within an hour, the Spaniards overran the pueblo, and over the next few weeks, they conquered the other Zuni in the region.
    Coronado moved his camp to the upper Rio Grande River, where his soldiers confiscated one pueblo for winter quarters and looted the surrounding pueblos for supplies. During this operation, a Spaniard raped an Indian woman, and when Coronado refused to punish him, the Indians retaliated by stealing horses. Lopez de Cardenas attacked the thieves’ pueblo, captured 200 men and methodically burned them all at the stake.
    October 18, 1540
    Hernando De Soto’s expedition was ambushed by Choctaw tribe in Alabama who killed their livestock and 200 Spaniards. The remaining Spaniards then burned down the Mabila compound, killing some 2,500 people who were inside.
    1540-1541
    The Tiguex War was was fought in the winter of 1540-41 by the army of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado against the 12 pueblos of Tiwa Indians along both sides of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. It was the first war between Europeans and Native Americans in the American West.
    1541
    Faced with an incipient uprising, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado ordered an attack on the Moho Pueblo, a center of Indian resistance. His men were repulsed when they tried to scale the walls, so they settled in for a siege that lasted from January through March. When the Moho tried to slip away, the Spaniards killed more than 200 men, women and children.

  10. Sherry says:

    BTW. . . we still need hard working people to pick the crops, clean the toilets. . . etc. OR, are YOU ready to do that scut work yourself for less than minimum wage and no benefits. . . OR are you ready to pay $5.00 for a tomato? YOU are going to really miss the “ILLEGAL” immigrants when they are gone!

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