What a “sanctuary campus” is and what it is not


We are now witnessing a large and increasing number of colleges and universities declaring their campuses to be sanctuary campuses.  What is a sanctuary campus and what can it do and not do?

One, we know from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for FY 2015 that there were 24,982 undocumented immigrant-students on public college and university campuses throughout Texas—7,580 in public universities and 17,402 in public community, technical, and state colleges. There are some 1,500 on Lone Star College campuses, where I am a trustee. (I speak only for myself.) These colleges and universities know the name of every single undocumented immigrant on their campus because in order to receive in-state tuition each must sign an affidavit that, reports the Coordinating Board, says the student “met statutory requirements to qualify as a Texas residents for higher education proposed by the higher education sector.”  Ironically, by signing such an affidavit, each student on respective campuses is identified as an immigrant, relatively easy to find.

Two, a “sanctuary campus” now means that college officials will not voluntarily disclose to law enforcement officials the names of these immigrants.  But—and it’s a huge distinction—campus officials must disclose these names if requested by a court order.  These immigrants are as exposed as fish in a barrel—very vulnerable because of the signed affidavit.

Three, private student information is protected by FERPA, a federal law that regulates student records. But if a court order requests the name and home address of an immigrant who signed the affidavit, the college or university keeping such a record must report that name and address to law enforcement officials—making virtually all immigrants very easy to find. A court order overrides FERPA. No campus is a sanctuary in this sense, ironically quite exposed.

Three, will President Trump go after such college students?  He has sent and continues to send mixed signals.  At first, it was, “Deport all 11.2 illegal immigrants.”  Then it became, “Deport all criminals.”  Then on December 7, he softened on the issue of college immigrants, especially DREAMers:  “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.  They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here.  Some were good students.  Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”  Will he instead go after only immigrant students with criminal records, which are kept by law enforcement officials?

Four, some college and university presidents will issue no kind of sanctuary campus because they fear such would jeopardize federal funding, as has been threatened when colleges don’t comply with President Obama’s transgender bathroom directive.

Five, if all else fails for undocumented students, there is a remaining recourse: Immigrants have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.  But immigration courts are now overwhelmed with pending cases.  USA Today reports that “even if Trump  . . . added 150 more judges over the next two years, they could not clear out all the pending immigration cases until 2023.” Immigrants may stay in the U. S. pending their court hearing.

Sanctuary campuses afford little protection for undocumented students and are ineffectual in the face of court orders to colleges to release the names of these students.

Ron Trowbridge

Trustee, Lone Star College System

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