Community Calls on Whitman to Become “Sanctuary Campus”

Christy Carley, News Editor

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Whitman students, staff and faculty gathered at the steps of Penrose Library last Wednesday in support of a petition to designate Whitman College as a “sanctuary campus.” The gathering was part of a national day of action in which students across the country called on their schools to offer protection for undocumented students in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.

Organized by the Borders as Method club (BAM), the gathering followed the circulation of a petition that, as of Thursday, gained over 1,200 signatures from members of the Whitman community past and present, including 100 signatures from faculty members.

Borders as Method is a club that focuses on issues related to immigration and migration justice. The club works to educate the Whitman community about issues related to immigration and migration through events such as “ImMigration Week” last year, which included teach-ins by faculty members and participation in the Walla Walla May Day Rally.  

Last Thursday’s event included student speakers from BAM along with Professor of Politics Aaron Bobrow-Strain, faculty advisor to the club who teaches a class on the U.S.-Mexico border which includes a weeklong educational trip at the end of the year.

What is a sanctuary campus?

In the petition written by BAM, the provision calling on Whitman to become a “sanctuary campus” requests that the school “refuse ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] access to all college owned and contributed properties. … [and] refuse to share the immigration status of our community members with ICE or the police.”

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo stating that the officers of ICE are subject to restrictions upon entering a college campus or other “sensitive locations.” The petition claims that this memo puts Whitman in a position to protect its undocumented community members.

In addition to declaring Whitman a sanctuary campus, the petition also requests a specific scholarship fund for undocumented students, the designation of a staff member as an Undocumented Student Advocate and a public statement of support for undocumented students from the college administration.

Why now?

With the election of Donald Trump and subsequent speculation that Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, will play a role in his administration, many foresee a hardening stance on immigration from the federal government.

Kobach, known for his tough stances on immigration, is reported to have joined Trump’s transition team.

Kobach is a co-author of SB-1070, a controversial 2010 Arizona immigration bill, sometimes referred to as the “show me your papers” bill, that requires Arizona police to ask for citizenship papers of those who they suspected to have entered the country illegally.

The possibility of Kobach’s influence within the Trump administration has caused many to worry that the government will harden its stance on immigration and the participation of public officials and other citizens in enforcement.

“[Kobach] wants to extend the border control to include every one of us,” Bobrow-Strain said in his speech.

While according to Bobrow-Strain, such a requirement would be difficult to pass, a more likely route that could be taken by the Trump administration would be to cut federal funding from colleges and universities that do not cooperate with immigration enforcement officials.

We want to make sure that we are never in the situation to have to make that no-win choice between our financial aid funding for students and reporting on undocumented students,” said Bobrow-Strain.

He emphasized that the movement of colleges and universities to become sanctuary campuses is important, largely because it will put political pressure on the Trump administration.

“The way we do that is by being part of a public, a national, an organized campaign by colleges and universities big and small across the country to stand up now… and make it politically impossible for Kris Kobach and Donald Trump to put us in that situation,” Bobrow-Strain said.

Beyond this, many fear that the Trump administration could repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was put in place under President Obama in 2012. The program allows children brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 to obtain a driver’s license and work permit. Additionally, DACA makes undocumented students in higher education eligible for certain scholarships.

“DACA has been instrumental in providing a fundamental sense of security for the recipients since it has brought them out of the shadows and into mainstream society,” senior Miriam Zuniga, one of BAM’s presidents said. “The repeal of DACA would invalidate all of the hard work so many undocumented activists have done for years. It would send a message that these young people are not welcomed and need to fear for their safety.”

Moving Forward

The crowd gathered near the steps of Memorial Building to watch as members of BAM delivered the petition to President Murray. Upon receiving the petition, Murray thanked the club for their work.

“I do look forward to working with all of you as we really do work to make this a safe and inclusive campus for all of its members,” Murray said. “I need to study what it actually says, and then I will circle back to you as quickly as I can – I will be in touch and we’ll talk again.”

In the aftermath of the Trump’s election, the club emphasized the necessity to act quickly.

“We promise to hold President Murray accountable to addressing these proposals during this period of great urgency,” BAM member junior Julie Kitzerow said.