Campus Safe Haven?

For my host country like Canada, universities need no special recognition for welcoming anybody regardless of citizenship or ethnicity. When Canada already has an administration known for accepting every person that enters its borders, the entire country is a safe haven. The country hasn’t seen many asylum-seeking immigrants before, but according to Canada’s National Post, officials need to start preparing for an influx of new people at the border.

American perspectives on immigration are a tad different. Since Trump has begun pushing for efforts to find and remove all undocumented immigrants from the country, the collective emotion rising among the American people is fear. If Trump were to deport every single undocumented immigrant, the New York Times says the total people affected would be up to three million. If his plan is carried out accordingly, it would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to find immigrants and send them out of the country. This proposed policy in of itself leads to further complications and questions.

From the anti-immigration fear arose an increasingly popular title for universities to adopt: “sanctuary campus.” A Billy Penn article defines a “sanctuary campus” as any American college that adopts policies to protect students who are undocumented immigrants. The term is modeled after policies implemented by “sanctuary cities,” a status that has been adopted by over 30 towns. The status suggest campus policies such as barring campus police from enforcing immigration orders, not sharing student information with immigration enforcement officials, and denying federal officials entry without warrants.

My home campus, the University of South Dakota, is considering actions toward becoming a sanctuary campus. If approved, the decision would be the first of its kind in the sparsely populated conservative state. While it’s honorable to consider such a title, the campus designation is just that: a title. The title might be even more problematic than helpful. All college campuses should do the most within their power to legally protect undocumented students. Going beyond legal means would be both risky and potentially detrimental to the entire student body.

Becoming a sanctuary campus is less about practicality and more about viral headlines. Especially in the conservative Midwest, the term depicts a defiance of law and serves as a trope for unauthorized immigration. When such a “sanctuary” is tinged with racist and anti-Mexican sentiment, the term becomes even more poisonous. One person’s safe harbor is another person’s harboring. The real authority here, no matter how public universities try, is the state government funding it, a government that could easily decide to cut funding if such “sanctuary” actions are taken. Federal action could even potentially threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges refusing to issue student loans to students at sanctuary campuses or withholding federal research grants.

The sanctuary campus movement mainly aims to protect those under DACA, or Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals. American organization Immigration Equality says that on June 15, 2012, President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. After already deporting some recipients of this designation, according to the BBC, Trump seems to be disregarding DACA already, going on the basis of young people committing crimes worthy of deportation. Ultimately, however, DACA is a temporary deferment. Student visas are available, but to get a Green Card requires employment and there are a limited number. With any executive action to further deportation efforts, DACA would inevitably see an end altogether. At this point, all Trump has to do is stop renewing permits and stop deferring deportation.

The deportation matter is one we need to tread lightly and cautiously. In protecting students, universities should do anything legally possible for students who, after all, are not lawbreakers. Institutions should automatically provide support and services, as they would for all their students, especially vulnerable ones. Exacting pledges that cannot be kept will do no one any good.

Several major campuses have already decided to avoid claiming themselves as sanctuaries, including Stanford and Notre Dame. Both universities see the symbolic weight of moving forward as sanctuaries, but officials from both campuses see a greater fear in federal retaliation and increased exposure for vulnerable students that public institutions cannot protect them from.

Whether a university declares itself a sanctuary or not, American students still have basic rights that can protect them. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), for instance, prohibits schools from releasing a student’s personal information without the student’s consent. Also, the federal government has a long-standing policy to not attempt raids or arrests at certain “sensitive” locations like college campuses. Although there is obvious  concern that the Trump administration could reverse or even revoke those policies, immigration advocates say that the policies have been in place for so long that changing them would be extremely difficult.

As a public university, is moving forward into unknown territory with unknown repercussions smart? Universities can continue providing education and a location where immigration agents likely won’t go, but we’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist yet. The sanctuary title is nothing but another form of protest, a protest that would cause more harm than good. Choosing to be proactive is respectable, but it’s more respectable to have truly clear, legal standards to protect students.

The real action needing to take place is at the federal level to allow greater accessibility for immigrants to become citizens, a hope that probably isn’t feasible under the Trump administration. I wish I could end on a more hopeful solution, but legally, there is none at this point. To show support for all students, USD’s SGA bill works just fine, but we cannot expect USD to get involved otherwise. The government is still in charge. We just need to keep protesting and voting. We cannot stand behind a public university to face our problems. If this is an issue we are concerned about–and rightfully, we should be–this is our battle to fight.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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