Universities face pressure to become immigrant sanctuaries

Universities face pressure to become immigrant sanctuaries
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Faculty members and students at universities across the country are asking school leaders to declare their campuses as sanctuaries for undocumented individuals who could face immigration action under President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE's promised policies.

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The move comes after several big-city mayors have promised their cities will be safe havens for law-abiding undocumented immigrants. 

Trump pledged early in his campaign to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country, threatening to withhold federal funds from cities that did not collaborate with his administration's immigration authorities.

In a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday, Trump said he would focus on securing the border and deporting "probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million" undocumented immigrants with criminal records before making a determination on what to do with the undocumented population at large.

But Hispanics, the youngest demographic in the country, are concerned Trump's administration will stick to its campaign promises, with severe consequences for young immigrants.

Immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that began under President Obama are widely considered especially at-risk for deportation, since they submitted their personal information — with an admission of their undocumented status — to the federal government.

There are at least 720,000 recipients of DACA status, a June 2016 federal government report said.

"I gave this information under good will and faith to the federal government," Juan Escalante, digital campaign manager for America's Voice, told The Hill.

Escalante added that DACA recipients paid fees, submitted their information and were subject to a background check.

"If this database were to be used as some massive deportation list, I would beg to question whether this would be the smartest course of action for the administration or Congress," he said.

In a letter sent Tuesday, a group of faculty, students and alumni of the University of Notre Dame asked University President Rev. John I. Jenkins to "to implement a plan to declare our campus a sanctuary for undocumented students, staff, and their family members who face imminent deportation."

The letter referenced a 2011 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency memo that outlines restrictions upon officers from entering "sensitive locations," such as college campuses and places of worship without authorization.

Isaías Guerrero, a beneficiary of DACA and organizer for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, told The Hill a sanctuary campus would be in keeping with Notre Dame's "sentiment of justice guided by the Catholic faith."

"President Jenkins has an opportunity to continue that legacy, to be one of the institutions that can be a moral compass for the country," said Guerrero, a graduate of Notre Dame.

A group at Northwestern University sent a similar letter Tuesday warning of the potential consequences of immigration enforcement on college campuses.

"If these policies are enacted, they will prove disastrous, subjecting students and workers who are integral to our community to punitive measures, and countering Northwestern's stated commitment to "the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community," read the letter.

"This is not a time to wait and see how federal policies develop. To the contrary, it is a time to unflinchingly affirm our core values and to work proactively to safeguard the wellbeing of our community with every resource at our disposal," the signatories wrote.

The Notre Dame letter referenced a speech by Jenkins on political divisiveness and undocumented students.

"I assure you of our special concern for you at this time. The University will spare no effort to support you, just as we will do for every student at Notre Dame. You accepted our invitation to come to Notre Dame, you are now part of our family, and we will do everything we can to ensure that you complete your education at Notre Dame," said Jenkins at an interfaith prayer service Monday.

"As you so eloquently said Monday, ‘Either we walk together in mutual support, or we do not walk at all. Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are,' " the letter read.

More than 750 people had signed the Notre Dame petition by Tuesday afternoon, and over 1,000 had signed the Northwestern letter.

Other campus communities at elite universities such as Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Oberlin, Stanford, USC and Yale have expressed similar sentiments in petitions following the election of Trump.

Similar petitions have circulated at public universities.

Groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of California system have also petitioned authorities for sanctuary status.

"A lot of states provided these students with resources, in-state tuition and beyond, which are now under threat," said Escalante.

Escalante said public universities will face increased pressure as state institutions if laws are changed at a federal or state level to facilitate immigration enforcement.

"In 2014 a Republican legislature and a Republican governor looked at the taxpayers and said 'we're going to give them in-state tuition,' " Escalante said of Florida's current system. "Are state parties going to be emboldened to repeal these provisions?"

While public universities could face increased pressure to cooperate with federal authorities, many have a long history of political activism.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison petition reads, "Given that many students and their family members now live in fear of deportation threats, we urge the University of Wisconsin-Madison to immediately develop a protocol to reinstate itself as a sanctuary campus, as it once did in 1985."

During the 1980s, the Madison campus acted as a sanctuary to Central American refugees from violent governments and civil wars.