Section: EditorialsDecember 2, 2016
In the wake of the recent presidential election, many university student organizations have pushed for their campuses to become “sanctuary campuses.” Last month, Brandeis students joined this effort, issuing a petition urging administration to “investigate the possibility of our campus serving as a sanctuary for students, staff and their family members who face imminent deportation.” So far, the petition has received 988 signatures. Shortly after the petition was proliferated throughout the Brandeis community, University President Ronald D. Liebowitz sent an email to students and staff detailing the university’s plans regarding the petition. The email showed support for undocumented students, and promised to uphold many of the expectations applied to sanctuary campuses, but did not explicitly make a statement on whether Brandeis would officially become a sanctuary campus.
The term “sanctuary campus” has several important implications in terms of a school’s behavior regarding undocumented students. Sanctuary campuses must uphold all Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) deportation decisions, whether or not DACA is repealed during the upcoming presidential term. DACA is a program that prevents people who migrated to America as children from being deported. The Brandeis petition reports that over 700,000 young people are dependent on DACA to remain in the United States. Sanctuary campuses must also refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities, meaning that they cannot allow immigration officers onto campus or release the immigration status of students, faculty or staff. Some sanctuary campuses have even pledged to provide additional financial aid to undocumented students if DACA is repealed. The Brandeis petition also specifically calls for “mental health professionals who have cultural competency in working with politically marginalized communities and trauma-related issues of familial separation and the chronic threat of deportation.”
While the idea of a sanctuary campus is relatively unprecedented, sanctuary cities, which operate by the same rules as sanctuary campuses, have existed for years. Near the United States’ border with Mexico, several rural cities and towns serve as sanctuary zones for undocumented people, refusing to allow immigration authorities to enter. Many of these cities and towns have lost funding due to their decision to act as a sanctuary. Universities that declare themselves sanctuary campuses fear that they will also lose funding due to their sanctuary status, either from federal sources of funding or from donors. Despite these fears, many university administrations have officially deemed their universities sanctuary campuses. According to Remezcla.com, these universities include Reed College, Oregon State University, Portland State University, Wesleyan University, Columbia University and all 23 Cal State University campuses.
While it is too early to see the concrete effects that sanctuary campuses might have on their undocumented students, faculty and staff, sanctuary campus petitions are certainly a step in the right direction. The rising tide of post-election hate in America has left many undocumented Americans disappointed in their country and deeply afraid of deportation. The trauma that undocumented people experience, coupled with the increasing threat of deportation, requires educational institutions to take some extra steps to support their undocumented students, faculty and staff. Sanctuary campuses provide a safe environment, where undocumented people can go about their lives without the constant fear of deportation or discrimination. Upholding DACA will protect undocumented students from being forced to return to countries that they might not even remember. Additionally, culturally competent mental health resources can help undocumented Brandeisians cope with any fear and trauma that they might be experiencing.
It is important that all types of people feel comfortable studying and working at Brandeis, and declaring Brandeis to be a sanctuary campus would help diversify the types of people that can be safely included in our university culture. It would also contribute to the mental health of undocumented and otherwise marginalized students, who could benefit from a safe environment and culturally competent resources. Overall, the demands of the Brandeis University as a Sanctuary Campus Letter are consistent with Brandeis’ mission of social justice, diversity and inclusion.