Princeton students stage sanctuary campus walk-out

Hundreds of Princeton University students, faculty and staff called on the Ivy League school to become a sanctuary campus for its undocumented students in a campus walk-out at Nassau Hall on Thursday evening.

Over 80 college campuses across the country collaborated in the movement after Donald Trump was elected president this month, and another 100 campuses staged protests on Wednesday.

The drive for campus sanctuaries demands that colleges adopt similar policies to sanctuary cities, or cities that do not prosecute immigrants solely for violating federal immigration laws.

20161117-PrincetonWalkout-1The movement is in response to Trump’s plans to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants and to repeal President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Princeton University senior and DREAM Team Member Carlos Sotelo said.

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DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday to receive work permits and relief from deportation.

Sotelo is a DACA student, and said that the University should “put its weight” behind its motto: “In the nation’s service and in the service of all humanity.”

“We’ve been really worried about our families because they don’t hold our status. A lot of us are worried about our futures,” Sotelo said of DACA students at Princeton.

Sotelo said that although certain federal laws might stand in the way of Princeton’s sanctuary status, administrations at other schools have already shown support for the movement.

“As the number one university in the country, Princeton does hold a lot of weight,” he said, referring to Princeton’s symbolic support of students and the immigrant community at large.

Walk-out participants chanted slogans like “Education, not deportation” and “The people, united, shall never be divided.” Sotelo was one of several students who gave testimonials about their experiences as immigrants. After chanting at Nassau Hall, the group proceeded past Princeton’s Art Museum, through the Frist Center and to the Princeton Chapel.

An online petition for the cause says that Princeton cannot stand by “discrimination and hate.” It has garnered close to 1500 signatures.

In addition to calling for sanctuary status, the petition asks Princeton’s administration to “proclaim the Princeton University Chapel as part of the network of sanctuary churches,” “stop misclassifying undocumented students as international students” and “remove/waive the international tax for undocumented students,” among other demands.

In an email sent out to students, faculty and staff before the protest, the administration wrote that “the University will do everything possible to protect students’ legal rights and to ensure their ability to flourish at Princeton.” They are “carefully reviewing all applicable laws and policies, and…will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds.”

A sanctuary could happen

A member of Princeton’s class of 1966, Jon Wiener founded the Princeton chapter of Students for a Democratic Society to protest the Vietnam War when he was a student, and said that he thinks the sanctuary movement is a great cause to rally the Princeton community.

“It’s symbolically very powerful and it also provides real protection to people who really need it,” Wiener said in a phone call. “I think it’s easier to win the demand for campus sanctuary at private universities than at public universities,” he added, noting that Princeton doesn’t have to grapple with issues of state legislation, for example.

“I don’t understand why there would be any opposition to it,” he said.

Wiener participated in a protest against the Vietnam War in front of Nassau Hall when President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech at the Woodrow Wilson School in 1966, almost precisely 50 years ago.

In those days, Wiener said, Princeton was not known for its activism. When a group of ten Princetonians marched on Washington to protest the war in 1965, their banner read “Even Princeton.”

Wiener is the host and producer of “Start Making Sense,” The Nation’s weekly podcast, and a long-time contributing editor at The Nation. He is also a professor emeritus of history at UC Irvine.

The walk-out ended with a call to Princeton community members to join the DREAM Team, the immigrant rights advocacy group that organized the Princeton walk-out, and to continue promoting the cause independently.

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