Students and Faculty Push for ‘Sanctuary’ Campuses

Published January 21, 2017

Faculty and students at nearly 200 colleges and universities have petitioned their administrations to make their schools “sanctuaries,” to prevent the deportation of students who are illegal immigrants.

Some college presidents have agreed.

John Kroger, president of Reed College, announced his school will be a sanctuary college.

“As a sanctuary college, Reed will not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the investigation of the immigration status of our students, staff, or faculty absent a direct court order,” Kroger said in a statement.

Refusing to Cooperate

Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Portland State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and a handful of other schools have likewise declared themselves to be sanctuary campuses.

While not officially declaring the University of California (UC) system a sanctuary, Chancellor Janet Napolitano stated, “UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations.”

The university has laid out on its website policies to protect undocumented students, such as refusing to release confidential student records “without a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order, unless authorized by the student or required by law” and forbidding campus police to “undertake joint efforts with local, state or federal law enforcement agencies to investigate, detain or arrest individuals for violation of federal immigration law.”

More than 580 college presidents have asked the federal government to continue a policy allowing illegals who were brought to the United States at a young age to attend college.

About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States each year, the College Board estimates. The Pew Research Center estimates the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States as 11.1 million.

Political History

The sanctuary campus activity, which included student protests in November, followed the election of President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to deport illegal immigrants.

The sanctuary campus issue dates back at least to 2012, when President Barack Obama issued an executive order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, permitting young illegals to attend college. He did so after Congress declined to enact a law that would have done the same and more, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, commonly called the “DREAM Act.” That law would have provided illegals with a path to citizenship through education.

The campus movement is also an echo of the “sanctuary cities” movement, which aims at preventing federal officials from deporting illegal immigrants from certain cities.

Predicts Little Effect

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, says he doubts the push for sanctuary campuses will have “real consequences,” in contrast to sanctuary cities, which affect intergovernmental relations.

“Sanctuary cities limit the extent to which their police departments can cooperate with federal immigration authorities, usually restricting such cooperation to handing over alleged violent or property offenders to the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency],” Nowrasteh said. “I’ve never heard of campus police cooperating with ICE before, so there’s not an ability for the campus to create a sanctuary.”

‘Kneejerk Ideological Posturing’

Thomas Cushman, a professor of sociology and director of The Freedom Project at Wellesley College, says there is little value even in faculty petitions in favor of sanctuary campus policies.

“As with all such efforts, there was not a lot of thought behind them,” Cushman says. “It was typically kneejerk ideological posturing, where left-wing professors and administrators could display their virtue.

“I call this ‘virtue signaling,'” Cushman said. “Mostly irrelevant academics show that they have the correct attitude and that they are ‘good people.’ They think little about the legal ramifications or the consequences for students who might be in danger of deportation. I often say this virtue signaling is good for the virtue signalers but not necessarily for the people they are trying to help.

“If universities declare themselves sanctuaries, they risk calling attention to such students and actually might do them more harm than if they did nothing at all,” Cushman said. “I’m not against trying to help them, but the sanctuary campus movement is useless in helping them.”

Jane S. Shaw ([email protected]) is School Reform News’ higher education editor.