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Giving Sanctuary

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Every election is divisive, but this November’s presidential election caused a split in the U.S. that many people are not willing to forget. The shock many left-of-center Americans felt has now shifted to action, including staged protests, citizens moving to other countries, and a current push to subvert President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration plan with a motion for more sanctuary campuses and cities.

Unbeknownst to many, sanctuary cities have existed since 1979, when Los Angeles became the first of its kind. These sanctuaries protect undocumented immigrants from prosecution of violating the federal immigration laws of their resident country, but would not prevent prosecution for other crimes. In the case of college campuses, the conversation has centered around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, as it is more commonly known.  

Implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA is an immigration policy that allows eligible children who entered the United States illegally to obtain work permits and protection from deportation. The program does not offer a path to citizenship, but was intended to help the Department of Homeland Security focus on higher profile deportation cases before removing individuals who came to the U.S. as children.

Trump has said he plans to cancel the program, calling it an “illegal executive amnest(y)” and stating on his campaign site that he will “end sanctuary cities.” Many people feel that other protection must now be created. Allyssa Shipp, a sophomore at the University of North Texas, signed UNT’s petition to become a sanctuary campus.

“I think that as long as those that it is protecting are simply illegal immigrants and not breaking any other laws that they should be allowed. There’s so many reasons a person could be an illegal immigrant. They aren’t all bad,” she said.

Declaring a sanctuary can affect a city or university’s federal funding, especially with Trump’s immigration plan. In Phoenix this August, Trump said he would block funding for sanctuary cities, saying “cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

On Dec. 1, 2016, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he has cut funding to sanctuary cities, though no official policy change has been recorded at the time of publication. Abbott historically has been tough on immigration, having written to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department after Sheriff Lupe Valdez changed her immigration detention policy last October. The letter informed Valdez that local officials who do not report undocumented immigrants will be held accountable.

These actions could set a precedent for other states should their public universities choose to implement similar plans. As the poorest county in Ohio, Athens stands to lose comparable benefits if OU becomes a sanctuary campus; however, OU College Democrats President Sam Miller thinks the loss of funding would not be an issue.

“If we really take a look at where the university is spending their money and the return we are receiving on that, then I think it makes sense to invest in becoming a sanctuary campus,” Miller said. “We talk a lot about being a Bobcat Family, but we often don’t invest in that family, and services that protect that family. We really need to start investing in things that are going to create a safe environment for all of our students.”

An internet petition originally circulated in early December asking the university to do just that. Louis-Georges Schwartz, an associate professor of film, attempted to gather support for “proactive measures to ensure the wellbeing of student, faculty and staff. Particularly at risk are those who may lose their legal protections under new policies proposed by the president-elect.”

While Schwartz removed the petition in order to change the language, parts of it are available in an article by The Athens NEWS. According to the NEWS, the petition directly addressed Trump’s plans to cancel DACA.

Faculty Senate introduced a new petition Jan. 9. This petition does not ask for OU to become an outright sanctuary campus, but instead asks the OU administration to include immigration status as a protected category within the university’s harassment policy, as well as take additional steps to protect undocumented immigrants in the community.

While the first three statements passed during Monday night’s meeting, a final point proposing a new administrative office to provide confidential legal counseling for DACA students was struck down.

Political leaders at OU share differing views about the petition. OU College Republicans President David Parkhill is strongly against the petition.

“Sanctuary cities harbor criminals,” Parkhill said. “Illegals are criminals in the sense that they are here illegally, not that they commit crimes. Campuses should not harbor illegals — they should follow the law.”

Miller countered Parkhill’s comment with the idea that no matter what happens with the petition, “illegals in this country should not be considered criminals” and “that is a blatant stereotype that has been perpetuated through the Donald Trump campaign.”

President Roderick McDavis struck a more compromising tone last December. During a Dec. 6 Faculty Senate meeting, McDavis said the university will consider reviewing the matter with Faculty Senate and the other bodies on campus, “from our legislature to our Board (of Trustees).”

550 universities nationwide signed a statement started by Pomona College, calling for the continuation and expansion of DACA as “a moral imperative and a national necessity.”

Hannah Clouser, president of Student Senate, agreed with McDavis.

“I did bring up the request to add ‘immigration status’ into our anti-discrimination policy in a Review and Standards meeting, but as I said at the (Student) Senate meeting last week, it is something beyond the code of conduct and would require a policy change,” she wrote in an email. “There may be legal issues with this being a federally funded school, but we could work with the city of Athens to be a sanctuary city, potentially.”

Miller believes the sanctuary campus petition is an important step following the November presidential election.

“We elected a president who is going to have intense strategies to deport a lot of people who have established lives in the country, but they are illegal,” Miller said. “I think that the university needs to acknowledge that policy Trump is going to enact will affect these people. If we are a Bobcat family, then everyone needs to be equally protected, and that means we need to become a sanctuary campus.”

Further action on the petition is uncertain, with the authors currently revising it.

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