Walkout calls for sanctuary campuses to protect undocumented students

Hundreds of Philadelphia-area college students walked out of classes Wednesday as part of a national day of action urging universities to protect undocumented students by declaring themselves “sanctuary campuses.”

The coordinated protests came as President-elect Donald Trump confirmed his resolve to crack down on undocumented immigrants, telling “60 Minutes” he would deport 2 million to 3 million who have criminal records immediately after his inauguration. During his campaign, Trump also said he would repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Obama’s 2012 executive action that exempts young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The immigrant-advocacy group Movimiento Cosecha coordinated the mass walkouts, and about 80 schools officially signed up to participate. Locally, that included Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr colleges, Temple and Rutgers universities, and the University of Pennsylvania.

But Cosecha organizer Vera Parra said plenty more schools joined the crusade unofficially, and the group expects walkouts to continue over the coming weeks as the nation debates the fate of more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States without proper documentation.

“In the wake of the election, there are very real reasons for immigrant students and their families to be afraid,” Parra said. “But immigrant students are hopeful. They’re going to fight for dignity and respect, and they’re asking for allies to stand with them. They’re not going to allow Trump to normalize mass deportation.”

At Swarthmore College, Dalia Castro left her class at noon to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants. Castro, 21, is from El Paso, Texas.

“The area that I’m from there, it’s like right on the border, so I see a lot of people coming in and out of different countries,” Castro said. “Coming out to this event was very important to me because I want to see everyone enjoying sort of like an environment where there is no difficulty of being endangered because of the country that they are currently in.”

Natasha Nogueira, 22, a Swarthmore junior from Santa Cruz, California, said her Brazilian-immigrant parents inspired her participation. She remembers the terror that her mother, who is undocumented, felt during a routine car stop years ago.

“I [initially] had no idea why she was feeling such despair, but I found out a few years later that my mother is undocumented. And that same despair, that I didn’t really understand what it was that night in the car, I felt again on Wednesday with the results of this election,” Nogueria said. “Knowing that my family could be separated. Knowing that my mother is not necessarily safe in this country because of her status.”

Sanctuary campuses are more of an idea than a policy, and how they would take shape varies from campus to campus. Some students have started petitions to lobby administrators to publicly voice support for undocumented students, while others  seek assurances that school won’t tell immigration authorities details about students’ immigration status or otherwise assist authorities in deportation efforts.

Officials in “sanctuary cities,” including Philadelphia, have pledged similar vows to protect their undocumented citizens.

The walkouts weren’t yet over when backlash began online.

I propose that colleges kick out the students and use the housing for the less privileged. #SanctuaryCampus

— Rebellious Son (@max_turbo88) November 16, 2016

 

#sanctuarycampus Legal immigrants are most welcome, illegal immigrants are criminals, #nosanctuary

— Ken (@_kennyalan_) November 16, 2016

  

Go Home and Make Mexico, China, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Australia, India, (or wherever) Great Again! JUST GO HOME! #sanctuarycampus

— Rob Roberts (@RobRoberts19x) November 16, 2016

 

Conservative lawmakers also weighed in, including Iowa Rep. Bobby Kauffmann, who has introduced legislation that would cut funding to schools spending money on safe spaces.

“This is kids acting like spoiled brats, let’s just call it what it is,” Kauffmann told Fox News. “No, you cannot have sanctuary campuses harboring illegal immigrants. That’s just absurd.”

But the walkouts worked, if some university administrators’ reactions were any indication.

“We are investigating what providing sanctuary would mean for our undocumented students, and how it would actually work, both legally and practically,” Swarthmore President Valerie Smith said. “We are also in conversation with other colleges and universities to exchange information and better understand how they are approaching this issue .… we share the concerns of our students, as well as a commitment to our nation’s diversity, and the common goal of including all of our students in our country’s future.”

Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi emailed students: “No matter your political view, ethnicity, religious beliefs, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or nationality, you are first and foremost a Rutgers student. You are owed our respect, our support, and our best efforts to keep you safe and secure as you express your opinions and pursue your studies … We will protect student confidentiality and will not share private information unless required by law or a court order.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.