Several Democratic lawmakers have asked President Obama to use a presidential pardon (which could not be undone by Congress or a new president) to protect the young people who have received deportation relief under his administration. But the White House declined, noting that the pardon would not give these young people legal status, something only Congress can do.
Cresswell also pointed out an important difference between schools and cities. Where sanctuary cities have police forces that could theoretically face off with immigration officers, schools don’t have that manpower. In that sense, identifying as a sanctuary campus “doesn’t really mean very much,” he acknowledged.
Other universities have said as much in response to student requests for sanctuary spaces. The University of Wisconsin at Madison said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that the “University of Wisconsin Police Department and Madison Police Department officers have full authority from the state Legislature to enforce laws and applicable rules on campus without seeking permission of the university."
According to The Washington Post, in response to a request by students at Brown, a school spokeswoman, Cass Cliatt, wrote in an email: “Based on consultation with legal counsel, we understand that private universities and colleges do not have legal protection from entry by members of law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
But Cresswell and Berger-Sweeney also suggested that there might be strength in numbers. If many campuses openly identify as sanctuary campuses, how realistic would it be to expect Trump’s administration to try to impose sanctions on all of them?
Ramona Hernandez, the director of the Dominican Studies Institute at the City University of New York and a sociology professor at its City College campus, said that it’s important not only for schools, but also for community members, to vocally support students who are looking for a safe space. (Her school’s interim president, Vincent Boudreau, sent a note around campus the day after the election echoing that sentiment.)
Hernandez, who acknowledged that she is nervous about the possibility of scared students quitting college, said that more than just focusing on the legality of becoming a sanctuary campus, it will be important in the coming months for people in leadership roles to reaffirm that campus is a welcoming place. Students may experience aggression from “the average Joe” in their daily lives, she said, and advocates’ basic concern “is that they don’t feel afraid in moving to places within campus, to receive services.” Right now, those services involve helping undocumented students with immigration questions, among other things. Hernandez wants to make sure those programs remain funded.
At Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Connecticut, which recently became a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the associate professor Julia Petitfrere said faculty have been talking about declaring themselves “unafraid educators.” “For me personally, if there’s some comfort I can be, or some resource I can provide, absolutely come to me,” Petitfrere said, acknowledging that the school likely wouldn’t have the authority to stop immigration-enforcement officers from coming onto campus.