The Push for Sanctuary Campuses Prompts More Questions Than Answers

Students call on New York University to identify as a sanctuary campus. Students at colleges around the United States are asking their school leaders to establish so-called “sanctuary campuses” following President-Elect Donald Trump’s win. The idea behind these demands is to protect young people who feel threatened by his victory. But it’s not clear exactly what the term “sanctuary campuses” means or how far universities will go to comply with the request. Understanding the opportunity and achievement gaps in U.S. universities Yet some schools are moving to define and adopt the term already. On Sunday, the president of Wesleyan University said after consulting with the school’s legal counsel and board of trustees that the college would become a sanctuary campus, according to the student newspaper. The school, one of the first in the country to adopt the identity, has reportedly created two clauses explaining in part that it would not willingly assist with government efforts to deport undocumented students, faculty, and staff. According to the Wesleyan Argus: These clauses are meant to give the University legal backing on constitutional grounds in a variety of cases. The most immediate would be preventing any University staff from assisting federal authorities in deportation efforts. The University’s statements also hedge against a potential federal lawsuit or seizure of funds, of which the federal government provides around $200 million to the University each year. It is unclear to what extent the “voluntary assist[ing]” clause will be applied if federal authorities were to come to campus, but it does ostensibly ensure that resources such as Public Safety and the registrar’s office would not be called upon to aid a potential deportation force. Trump has promised, among other things, to deport millions of undocumented immigrants who are criminals and end an Obama-administration program that grants some young people in the United States without papers temporary relief from the threat of removal. He also at one point proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country, though that pledge has since morphed into one that would instead involve “extreme vetting” of immigrants from certain parts of the world. So in response, students in the U.S. are calling on their universities to support undocumented students and other people who might be vulnerable under a Trump administration by becoming “sanctuary campuses.” That term has no standard definition, though, and while Wesleyan has moved to adopt it, other schools are questioning how feasible becoming a sanctuary campus really is. The term is generally derived from the “sanctuary city” concept, which also varies in meaning. Broadly, major cities like Chicago and New York have said they will serve as “sanctuaries” for immigrants, typically by saying they will not turn over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration officials. San Francisco, for instance, more than two decades ago passed a law prohibiting local police from holding undocumented immigrants if they are not facing charges or do not have a record of violent felonies. Students have asked dozens of schools across the country for similar assurances. They want the schools to refuse to turn over the names of undocumented students, for example, and many have asked their colleges to provide confidential counseling and legal services for such students. * * * Trump promised on the campaign trail that cities choosing not to cooperate with immigration authorities would “not receive taxpayer dollars.” Trump can’t make that happen by himself; it would require approval from Congress, and the reason for withholding federal funds from cities would likely have to be tied to their proposed use. In previous years, Democrats have blocked attempts by Republicans to cut off federal funding. But Republicans now control the House and Senate as well as the White House, so there’s a chance that future attempts to limit funding for these cities might be successful. Could a Trump administration, with backing from Congress, also threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges by, say, refusing to issue student loans to students at sanctuary campuses? Could they withhold federal research grants? It’s hard to say right now. For instance, the...

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