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Should Emory and other colleges offer sanctuary to students in light of Trump's deportation threats?

Should Emory become a sanctuary campus? Should any college?

The question is under discussion at the elite Emory campus after more than 700 students and 100 faculty members pressed leadership to stand in opposition to President-elect Donald Trump's pledge to deport immigrants who are illegally.

Emory is not the only school witnessing mobilization around Trump's immigration stance. Student-led campaigns are underway at many colleges across the country to create “sanctuary campuses." At Brown University in Rhode Island, 400 protesters gathered Friday, carrying signs that proclaimed “Stop deporting families” and “I stand with Standing Rock." New York University students were among the first in the country to call for sanctuary.

It's not clear what a college has to do to qualify as a "sanctuary," a term more commonly applied to cities that decline to prosecute otherwise law-abiding immigrants for violating federal immigration laws. Among the cities committing to sanctuary policies in the face of Trump's deportation threats are San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Trump has said he would withhold federal tax dollars from sanctuary cities.

Last year, Emory announced it would offer scholarships to students who qualify for a special reprieve from deportation through the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That financial help is critical because DACA recipients don’t qualify for federal student aid.

In a petition, Emory students and faculty ask the university to take several other steps to ensure the campus is not only open and affordable to illegal immigrants, but safe. In essence, they want Emory to serve as  sanctuary where students can study without fear of immigration officers knocking at their door:

Now, we call upon the University to move beyond public statements conveying sympathy and symbolic support. Instead, we urgently demand concrete actions by Emory University to protect all students—especially our undocumented students at the College and in graduate programs.

Work with Local Police Departments to Minimize ICE Enforcement on Campus and at Emory Facilities: We request that you work with local police departments and Emory Police to ensure that Emory’s campus and its facilities are protected from ICE enforcement. This measure is in line with a 2011 policy from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which notes that law enforcement and ICE officials cannot enter the campus without the permission of the university. Similarly, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border patrol officers are subject to restrictions regarding places of worship, schools, and hospitals ( Enforcement actions covered by the policy include (1) arrests; (2) interviews; (3) searches and (4) surveillance for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

* Declarative Statement on ICE Presence on Emory’s Campus: In line with standard ICE policy of not entering campus spaces, we urgently demand a declarative statement by Emory University that the enforcement actions involving arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance for purposes of immigration detention will not take place on our campus and at Emory facilities. Our university must continue to become a sanctuary for higher learning.

* Legal Support for Undocumented Students: Increase resources to pro-bono legal services at Emory Law School to ensure there is adequate legal support and resources for undocumented students and students in mixed-status families to cover fees associated with immigration-related legal proceedings. Also, we demand strengthened campus partnership with organizations throughout Atlanta and Georgia that can provide legal assistance and other necessary resources to undocumented immigrants and refugees. These organizations include: the Latin American Association, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Catholic Charities of Atlanta.

* Mental Health Services: Ensure that mental health services at Emory are extended to undocumented students or students affected by immigration detention/deportation. We specifically demand the hiring/training of mental health professionals who have cultural competency in working with trauma-related issues of familial separation and the chronic threat of deportation.

* Administrator Support: Assign a network of point persons who can specifically support undocumented and/or DACA undergraduate and graduate students. We also demand the establishment of a resource center to increase and centralize assistance in navigating issues of immigration status and access to financial aid. We urge Emory to look towards models established by UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, and other institutions in the University of California system.

* Release of Student Information: In line with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, we demand that the immigration status of current DACA students be withheld from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

* Financial Aid Resources: Mobilize financial aid resources for DACA and undocumented students in preparation for decreased federal financial support. These resources could be sought through Emory’s extensive donor networks.

* Declarative Statement on Emory’s Policy on Admissions for Undocumented Students: In the spirit of Emory’s decision to admit and provide needs-based financial aid for DACA students, we urgently demand a formal declaration that Emory’s undergraduate and graduate programs admit students irrespective of their immigration status. This policy would entail modifications to Emory’s current admissions procedures, but we very much think that by doing so, Emory will remain true to its commitment to fostering an inclusive community of learners/scholars.

Colleges nationwide have had to grapple with how to treat students who grew up here but whose parents came to the United States illegally. Many schools have chosen to regard those students as they would any other applicant.

However, Georgia adopted one of the nation's most restrictive policies, preventing such students from attending any sought-after institution that has not enrolled all of its academically qualified applicants for the previous two years. That prohibition now applies to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Augusta, Georgia State, and Georgia College and State universities.

That is about to change, as the AJC's Jeremy Redmon reported:

Two of Georgia’s most competitive schools — Georgia State and Augusta universities — will consider admitting immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status, starting in the spring of next year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

That will leave three top Georgia colleges and universities that do not admit such students under a controversial state rule: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia College & State University. Called Policy 4.1.6, the rule has prompted a series disruptive demonstrations and a federal lawsuit.

The decision follows Republican Donald Trump’s stunning upset in this month’s presidential election. Trump is proposing to crack down on illegal immigration by ramping up deportations and canceling an Obama administration program that has provided deportation deferrals and work permits for more than 741,000 immigrants across the nation, including more than 23,000 in Georgia.

The Board of Regents announced the change in a prepared statement sent exclusively to the AJC this weekend, saying it is the result of a review officials began in connection with the court battle. Augusta and Georgia State universities are making the change under the policy based on their most recent admissions data, according to the board, “because they have admitted all academically qualified applicants through general admissions during the last two years.”

Here is the letter Emory's new president Claire E. Sterk released in response to concerns from Emory students and faculty:

Dear Emory Students, Staff and Faculty,

“Following my letter of November 9, many of you did reach out to each other, including me. There is an overwhelming call to comfort each other, to ensure that we are a safe community, and to express hope for the future. In addition, a letter requesting the need for a sanctuary campus and ways to protect all members of the Emory community is being reviewed by the university leadership.

“We do not know what the future holds for our nation or for the world. But we do know that Emory’s future is determined by our shared values, our respect for each other, and our open and courteous engagement. Together, we will face the challenges of our time. We have to listen to each other. We must look each other in the eye and be honest and respectful. We need to value each other. Emory always has been and will continue to be committed to the principles of academic freedom in a community that affirms everyone’s rights to speak, learn, and grow. While doing so, we will not tolerate bullying, intimidation, or discrimination on any level. Instead, we expect empathy, mutual respect, and courteousness.

“As one of the top research and teaching universities, Emory has the people, knowledge, and talent to equip itself to create a better world for all. Let’s respond to the challenges posed, apply all that we have to offer in the service of humanity, and remain steadfast in our commitment to the values, vision, and mission that unite us. Much work already is underway, whether through formal and informal conversations, structured programs, intentional training to address unconscious bias, a curriculum that defines challenges in the nature of evidence, and more—including our external engagement and our willingness to be bold.

“As Thanksgiving is upon us, let’s honor each other, be thankful for the communities to which we belong and the opportunities before us, and help each other exceed our expectations of what we can accomplish together.


Claire E. Sterk

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.