Many undocumented students under DACA are in fear of president-elect Trump being in the White House. He has promised to do a variety of things on his first day as president. One of his many promises is to enforce exceptionally strict immigration laws and to end President Obama’s immigration executive actions, which includes DACA.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) allows certain individuals, who must meet specific guidelines, to request consideration of deferred action from USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.) Under DACA, these individuals are not to be placed into removal proceedings and can work in the United States for the time specified.
Numerous recipients of DACA are afraid that they will be deported and their lives and education in the United States will be taken away from them in an instant if Trump decides to repeal the executive order. Because of this, many DACA and non-DACA students have called on college administrators to appoint their schools as “sanctuary campuses.”
Designating the school as a “sanctuary campus” would give students who feel threatened by the elimination of DACA, and targeting of immigrants, a sense of protection. Although there are various meanings as to what exactly is a “sanctuary campus,” the main principle behind the term is that university administrators, or school leaders, will not turn over status information about undocumented immigrants to federal immigration officials.
At the moment, over 188 colleges and universities have organized petitions and letters to make their campuses a sanctuary. Out of the 188 colleges and universities, only four have denied the labeling of being a “sanctuary campus.” Nine have declared sanctuary status and 48 have promised to commit and support undocumented and immigrant students. However, 127 colleges and universities have not responded to the petition of becoming a “sanctuary campus.”
Students are asking for reassurance that the names and vital personal information of immigrant students will not be shared or given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) They also ask that legal services and counseling be offered to these students.
During Trump’s campaign trail, he promised that no city that considered itself a sanctuary would be given “taxpayer dollars.” And in a series of recent tweets sent out by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, he too said that he would, “sign a law that bans sanctuary cities,” and that, “Texas will not tolerate sanctuary campuses.” If a publicly funded university chose to establish itself as a sanctuary status, then he would cut their funding.
However, before any tweet(s) were sent out that day, student organizations at UNT and TWU decided to stage a campus walkout at noon, on December 1, and meet up at “The Square” in Denton, Texas to show their support for the sanctuary campus movement and advocate for their campuses to become sanctuaries for students, faculty, and staff.
Jared Hernandez, Political Science major, and Cristal Benitez-Lopez, a double major in International Business and Spanish, spoke about the experience in being a part of organizing a task force to voice the concerns of undocumented and immigrant students.
Their main priority is that they want students to feel safe at UNT and to not be afraid of deportation at any given moment while an undocumented or immigrant student is pursuing their education and have followed further lawful steps to be in the United States. Whether the student came to the United States through the traditional or non-traditional route.
“We want to ensure that the students have a safe place on campus,” Hernandez said. “Not be afraid of getting deported.”
Hernandez and Benitez-Lopez said that they (and others as a task force) feel that UNT President Smatresk fails to acknowledge their concerns for undocumented and immigrant students, giving them the sense that he doesn’t care much about undocumented and immigrant students and their movement to be a “sanctuary campus.” Although they are redirecting students to resources, the resources do not meet specific needs for undocumented and immigrant students.
“The services that they are offering are not enough,” Hernandez said. “We need specific lawyers and counseling for undocumented and immigrant students.”
However, when mentioned to Tanya O’Neil, UNT news promotion specialist, she said that if they could provide sustainable examples of students not receiving the help they were in search for, then they should contact the Dean of Students for further assistance.
“We have the Dean of Students who are always available to help students,” O’Neil said. “It’s hard when there’s not concrete [information,] and when it’s a hypothetical situation, we can’t address it.”
O’Neil also said that UNT does everything it can to protect all students because they are the first and the foremost concern of the university.
“It always comes down to that the university is here for students,” O’Neil said. “Security, comfort, all of those things are most important to us.”
What was listed in the sanctuary petition created by the task force, is something the university already provides for its students, O’Neil said. If the task force wants more from the school administration, the task force should let the UNT administration know.
O’Neil expressed that the UNT school administration has done all it could for their undocumented and immigrant students. To the point where the school administration feels like they don’t know what more they can provide to the students affected.
“A lot of what has been asked for is already in existence,” O’Neil said. “What do they want specifically more? They would need to ask the administration before the administration can answer what more can we do.”
However, Hernandez and Benitez-Lopez agree that their demands are clear-cut in the petition. It’s just the matter of the UNT administration acknowledging them and giving them solid answers to their request.
O’Neil said President Smatresk always puts his students first. Unfortunately, the governor has put real strings on [sanctuary campuses.] Because of Gov. Greg Abbott’s threat to pull funding if any campus declares itself a sanctuary there’s not much the UNT administration can do.
“All students need funding so you can’t offer anything to anyone if you don’t have funding,” O’Neil said. “You have to look at all students.”
Hernandez and Benitez-Lopez feel as though the administration is putting money before education.
“The fact that most of their concern is over funding is very disheartening,” Benitez-Lopez said. “These peoples livelihoods are going to be stripped from them and they’re worried about money.” To simply put it, “they’re putting money over humanity,” Benitez-Lopez said.
Mariela Nuñez-Janes, Ph.D., UNT Associate Anthropology Professor, is a researcher of immigrant education.
She wrote in an e-mail interview that a “sanctuary campus” is not only about undocumented students, but that it was a way to support the mission to educate everyone. By being “attentive and responsive to the vulnerabilities that students, faculty, and staff experience outside and inside educational institutions.”
“We are all impacted in [a] multitude of ways by a culture that increasingly puts the pressure on educators and educational institutions to act as border patrol agents,” Nuñez-Janes wrote.
She also noted that although the matter of a sanctuary campus is mostly symbolic, it “is one way that universities and other educational institutions can affirm the practices already sanctioned by DHS [Department of Homeland Security] under a threatening and uncertain climate.”
Although it can be argued that sanctuaries are already practiced by federal and state laws because warrants are necessary for arrest and detention, student records are protected under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,) and undocumented students have a right to due process. Furthermore, they are already not considered as a priority for enforcement by ICE.
In addition, Nuñez-Janes cited a 2011 memo issued by ICE defining educational institutions (schools and universities) as “sensitive” locations for enforcement activities due to “significant disruption” that enforcement could cause.
“Fear of deportation has become one of the most important concerns for undocumented students and U.S. citizen students in mixed-status families,” Nuñez-Janes said. “It is an important cultural moment in that we are being thrust to think hard and deeply about the meanings of democracy, freedom, and citizenship.”