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‘Sanctuary campuses’ are counterproductive

Undocumented students should be protected with substantive policy, not symbolic labels

The Trump administration’s ambiguous stance on the federal policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has undocumented students across the country grappling with uncertainty. Many of these undocumented students fear President Donald Trump will end the program. As a result, students have called for the establishment of “sanctuary campuses,” a term which does not translate directly into policy. Although administrations must do everything they can to protect students from federal deportation, adopting the label of “sanctuary campus” could in fact endanger undocumented students.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly called for the deportation of about 4 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. He also vowed to overturn the DACA program. Should Trump keep these campaign promises, they could affect tens of thousands of undocumented college students at American colleges and universities. The threat faced by over 728,000 “dreamers” of being deported is real and requires effective responses from college administrators, which has been the case at the University, so far.

The “sanctuary campus” label has been self-declared by 28 campuses around the country for its supposed value in protecting undocumented students from anti-immigration policies. However, deeming a college campus a “sanctuary” is largely symbolic. Since the term lacks both legal significance and a clear definition, it offers no actual protection. Moreover, using the term brings special and unnecessary attention to the presence of undocumented students, putting them at greater risk. “Sanctuary campuses” offer a false and misleading assurance for those who feel threatened by the Trump administration.

Recent efforts by the University demonstrate how administrations could ensure students’ unconditional protection. In an email to the University community last month, University President Teresa Sullivan assured students of the administration’s intention to continue protecting and keeping confidential the immigration status of students who may be affected by anti-immigration policies. In another email sent out yesterday, this commitment was reiterated. While the University has undertaken efforts to support students in recent weeks, it could improve them by hosting immigration experts and organizing conferences to educate the student body about the fears of undocumented students. All of these efforts are far more substantive than taking up a purely symbolic label.

The use of the term “sanctuary campus” presents more risks than assurances. The legal gray area of the term’s definition makes it a risky tactic for protecting undocumented students. The University should continue distancing itself from the #sanctuarycampus movement while bolstering its efforts to protect students from the threat of deportation. 

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