We’ll make our campuses safe for immigrants

November 21, 2016

Nicole Colson rounds up reports from anti-Trump demonstrations on campuses where students and faculty are demanding that schools become sanctuaries for the vulnerable.

STUDENTS AND faculty at dozens of colleges and universities across the U.S. had a message for "President-elect" Donald Trump and the band of bigots who make up his cabinet: Immigrants are welcome here--and we'll stand together to protect them.

The calls for a "sanctuary campus" movement are growing, with student activists taking a lead against the post-election pledge from Trump to deport as many as 3 million immigrants immediately after he takes office. In mid-November, actions were held at dozens of colleges, with students calling on their respective administrations to resist any deportations.

Spearheaded by the Cosecha Movement, the call to make campuses into sanctuaries has spread rapidly since Election Day. At least two dozen petitions are circulating, calling on different institutions to declare themselves sanctuary campuses, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The demands of the newly emerging campus movement include that administrations should refuse to voluntarily share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); refuse access to campus property to ICE; prohibit campus security from inquiring about an individual's immigration status; refrain from using E-Verify (the government database that allows employers to check immigration status); and prohibit housing discrimination based on immigration status.

Students at Syracuse University walk out en masse to demand a sanctuary campus
Students at Syracuse University walk out en masse to demand a sanctuary campus (Sam Ogozalek | The Daily Orange)

Many of the petitions also support the rights of undocumented students and those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program--which shields 750,000 young people from being deported, and which Trump has threatened to repeal--to the same access to in-state tuition, financial aid and scholarships as documented students.

FROM PORTLAND, Oregon, to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and beyond, students at as many as 100 campuses and universities held walkouts, rallies and other actions to dramatize their demands, mainly on November 16.

In New York City, hundreds of students from New York University packed a portion of Washington Square Park. "Trump supporters have spoken," one protester explained to the crowd. "Now it's our time to speak."

Above all else, the call for people to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable--and for our movement to take up the idea that "an injury to one is an injury to all," as the old labor slogan put it--rang out. As NYU student and organizer Hannah Fullerton told CNN:

What you can do

Visit the Cosecha website for information on helping to make your campus a sanctuary campus. Sign a petition declaring that you stand with the sanctuary campus movement.

We know that President-elect Trump could easily change a lot of policies, and we feel very threatened by that. This is a moment where it's not about whether you're personally affected anymore. We have a duty to not just do something because it affects us, but because it affects those next to us, our neighbors, our community.

In New Jersey, all three Rutgers University campuses answered the call, holding walkouts and demanding that the State University of New Jersey become a sanctuary campus. The faculty union representing 7,000 full- and part-time faculty, postdocs and teaching assistants also supported the call.

Days prior to the walkout, a coalition of students, faculty and staff called Rutgers One held an emergency mass meeting and issued a statement that read:

Rutgers One, a coalition of faculty, staff, students and community members, calls upon the Rutgers administration to join us in condemning all acts of bigotry on this campus and refuse to tolerate any attacks on immigrants, women, Arabs, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people and all others in our diverse community. We demand that President [Robert] Barchi and his administration provide sanctuary, support and protection to those who are already facing attacks on our campuses. We need concrete action that can ensure a safe environment for all.

Further, we commit ourselves to take action against all attempts by the Trump administration to target any of our students, staff or faculty. We are united in resistance to bigotry of every kind and welcome all to join us in solidarity.

At the walkout at Rutgers' New Brunswick, New Jersey, campus, more than 2,000 students and faculty rallied and took over the streets of downtown, chanting "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!" At the Newark campus, more than 300 rallied and marched. And in Camden, when faculty heard of action on the other two campuses, they issued a call for a rally that drew 75 students on a few hours' notice.

In Palo Alto, California, "Say it loud and say it clear--immigrants are welcome here!" was one of the chants raised by as many as 1,000 students at Stanford University after a walkout from classes November 15 for a rally and march.

The protest was organized by a campus coalition around three demands: that the university declare itself a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants; that administrators, including the president and provost, denounce the bigotry, hatred, prejudice and fear-mongering by the right on campus occurring under the guise of "free speech"; and that administrators take proactive steps to develop policies in support and consultation with the communities most affected by the hateful national rhetoric.

So far, more than 1,000 have signed onto a call to make Stanford a sanctuary campus.

In Boston, hundreds of students at Amherst College, UMass Boston, Mount Holyoke and Tufts walked out and rallied at their respective campuses on November 16. At Tufts, more than 200 students participated, led by Tufts United for Immigrant Justice. Students chanted, "We need more than just theory. Make Tufts a sanctuary."

"Being an undocumented immigrant, I fear deportation, but I will not accept that," Tufts student Diego Espinoza Rodriguez told WCVB News. "I've lived here my entire life. I don't know Mexico. I am from the United States. If my own country rejects me, it's not right."

At San Diego City College, hundreds more walked out--joined by 100 high school students from San Diego High and Lincoln High. Students took the street on a march to the downtown Federal Building, chanting, "The people united will never be divided."

WHILE SOME school officials are claiming that their hands are tied and they don't have the legal leeway to refuse to cooperate with immigration officials, in other cases, the protests appear to already be having an impact.

After some 500 students turned out at Portland State University for a sanctuary campus rally called by the PSU Action Committee for Inauguration Day, PSU President Wim Wiewel sent an e-mail to the college declaring PSU a sanctuary campus. Wiewel affirmed that PSU security will not enforce federal immigration law; PSU will not consent to immigration enforcement on campus unless legally made to do so; and PSU won't share confidential student information with the government unless compelled by the courts.

Students are also discussing how we can fight for justice beyond the calls for sanctuary campuses--and link up with other struggles as the right wing tries to go on the offensive and attack not only immigrant rights, but the rights of other minorities, women, LGBT people, Muslims and unions.

As speaker Amy Gaidis stated at a recent meeting of the International Socialist Organization in Portland attended by more than 50 people:

What would it really mean to make this city safe for immigrants? Safety comes from more than simply knowing that you and your loved ones won't be seized by police in the middle of the night and disappeared into a detention center...As socialists, we argue the fight for sanctuary, in our city and on this earth, is a fight that pits the needs of ordinary people against the demands of profit.

In the meantime, the sanctuary campus protests are an inspiring beginning to the struggles ahead.

"As an undocumented student, I am so moved by how this country is mobilizing and resisting hatred and xenophobia," Cosecha's Thais Marques wrote. "I see so much hope in this moment of devastation and desperation in this country. And I believe that we will win. We will win #SanctuaryCampus demands. And we will also win permanent protection, dignity, and respect."

Bora Erden, Amy Gaidis, Eva María, Khury Petersen-Smith, Avery Wear, John Ward West and Sherry Wolf contributed to this article.

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