Undocumented college students hope that their schools will help them despite the current administration. 

By Toni Peake


President Donald Trump made it clear throughout his campaign that he had an issue with the number of undocumented people living in the United States.

One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, with heightened security to keep Mexican citizens out of the United States.

He also pledged to deport what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates is 11.4 million undocumented immigrants back to their home country.

But the president’s campaign promises were taken one step forward. Kate Drew of cnbc.com reported that the country’s federal budget would allot an estimated $12 billion-to-$15 billion to build a 2,000-mile-long wall.

Supporters of the border wall hope that this vetting process can be used to screen travelers and detect terrorism at a faster rate. However, some worry Trump’s efforts to secure the country makes broad generalization that all undocumented immigrants pose threats of crimes and terrorism.

Many undocumented college students feel they could potentially be at risk amid this debate; through protests and demonstrations, these students across the country have urged their universities to declare themselves a #sanctuary.

Opinions on sanctuary campuses vary. Republican politicians like Texas Governor Greg Abbott are questioning the validity of the label itself.

What exactly is a #SanctuaryCampus?

The legal backing regarding sanctuary campuses has been controversial.      

The term sanctuary campus started primarily on the West Coast, mostly in California, where sanctuary cities became a localized issue.

USA Today College, which focuses on campus issues, says there are people who see a sanctuary campus as an institution that vows to protect its undocumented students from all proposed federal deportation standards.

Others see sanctuaries as safe zones for people of various nationalities to come and learn without fear of discrimination.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley students protest for sanctuary campuses. (Photo from: www.twitter.com)

What exactly do undocumented students want from their schools?

Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration expert at UCLA spoke to USA Today College about what legal steps universities can take to help protect their undocumented students. He said that universities can demand a warrant from immigration officials before they are able to access campus.

Other steps can include assisting undocumented students with the U.S. citizenship process. That way, students can avoid the conflicts with being undocumented all together.

A university can also put policies in place that allow students to chose whether or not they disclose their citizenship status.

With all of that being said, Motomura said that the worst thing “sanctuary campuses” can do is rely on that title.

Whether or not universities choose to adopt the title of a sanctuary campus, institutions have to be prepared for what might happen when they accept an undocumented student.

Sanctuary campuses are seen by some as a beacon of hope. They believe the status protects them from the President Trump’s views on immigration.

Atef Hassan Shaheen, whose family relocated from Syria to Turkey because of terrorism, is a graduate student at the Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey. He obtained his bachelor’s degree at American University in Washington, D.C., with scholarship assistance.

Once he heard what the term sanctuary campus means, he was pleased.

This is a move in the right direction, especially in the light of the Syrian refugee crisis and the new laws and regulations in the US,” Shaheen said by email.

“I support and encourage the movement of sanctuary campuses, because believing in sanctuary campuses means believing in the right of opportunity and education for all people,” he wrote.

Confusion, resistance and opposition … why?

There is no uniform legal language to support sanctuary campuses, and some states, like Indiana, fear that the designation can actually do more harm than good.

Rutgers University–Newark hosts walkout in hopes of their campus being declared a sanctuary. (Photo from: www.facebook.com)

On April 12, Indiana voted to pass along a bill to the governor that would ban sanctuary campuses in the entire state. The Associated Press reported that the Senate passed the bill 38-10, and awaits further voting by the government.

Legislation in states like Georgia are threatening to cut federal funding to universities that declare themselves a sanctuary. After Emory College announced that it, too, would take on a sanctuary status, state government officials decided that it was time to take a stance.

Farther up the East coast, The Harvard Crimson published a statement made by the university president, Drew G. Faust. He wrote in his statement that assuming a sanctuary status “risks drawing special attention to the students in ways that could put their status in greater jeopardy … I believe it would endanger, rather than protect, our students, and that is not something I am willing for this institution to do.”

Pennsylvania State University president Eric Barron also released a statement to the public. He wrote, “If used, [a sanctuary status] could imply that our university has the authority to exempt our campus from federal immigration laws, when in fact no university has that authority … It also implies incorrectly a university is able to provide special protections to undocumented individuals beyond the law. That also is not the case.”

Karin Fischer, senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, says that there definitely has been a lot of caution for universities to declare themselves a sanctuary.

Fischer said that more private institutions are embracing the title than public schools are, as public schools worry over funding. This is because state universities and colleges depend more on taxpayer dollars to keep their institutions going, whereas private institutions can rely more on higher tuition rates and personal donations.

University of Maryland is just one of the many campuses that is taking action to help their undocumented students without the “sanctuary” title. (Photo from: www.twitter.com)

Many universities worry what the sanctuary designation might bring.

Taylor Dumpson, the newly elected student government president at American University in Washington, D.C., collected several AU student perspectives on sanctuary campuses while campaigning for the position this semester.

Dumpson said that students believe that if the university took on the title of a sanctuary given American University’s location and the current administration it would actually pose more of a threat to undocumented students rather than keep them safe.

Dumpson said AU should use the resources already in place to work with students to ensure that they feel safe.

The Uncertain U survey conducted by a journalism class at AU reports that nearly 8 in 10 respondents said that they would approve of their university being a sanctuary campus.

What schools have declared?

Yahoo News says that, as of now, there are about 30 campuses that have officially declared themselves a sanctuary, some of which include:

  •         Portland State University (public)
  •         Reed College (private)
  •         Wesleyan University (private)
  •         Pitzer College (private)
  •         Santa Fe Community College (public)
  •         University of Pennsylvania (private)
  •         Connecticut College (private)
  •         Drake University (private)
  •         Swarthmore College (private)
  •         Columbia University (private)

A global nomad’s perspective

Kui Mwi, a senior at American University. (Photo courtesy: Kui Mwai)

Kui Mwai, 21, is an American University senior studying law and society and is graduating in May 2017. She calls herself a “global nomad.”

Born in the U.S. but primarily raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Mwai is neither a undocumented nor an international student, but she has lived quite an international life.

Mwai seemed hesitant to answer when asked if she knew what a “sanctuary campus” was. While not immediately familiar with the term, she liked what she heard.

Mwai said that her cousins in Kenya who are hoping to come to the United States for college have told her that they feel nervous about whether or not they would feel safe studying in this country.

She said that universities should be protecting their undocumented students more, but that she recognized why some universities choose to be “hush-hush” when it comes to identifying themselves as a “sanctuary campus.”

“I think culturally this a safe place, people celebrate differences here, and people have been very responsive to my international experience,” Mwai said. “But I don’t know if that’s the case with someone who is legitimately international.”


Featured photo by Kelly Vaughen