Funds Prevent Colleges from Becoming Sanctuaries

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Since Donald J. Trump’s ascension to the presidency, there has been a concerted effort carried out by students, activists, faculty members, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program benefactors and undocumented immigrants to inhibit and challenge the President’s program of deportation. From the inception of President Trump’s bid for the presidency there has been a consistent amount of anxiety felt amongst the community of undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants residing in the United States because of Trump’s controversial rhetoric. Initially, Trump had turned heads when he promised to erect a wall that would stand on the United States’ southern border, which it shares with Mexico. Infamously, Trump had claimed that Mexico was sending over “their worst,” which constituted drug dealers, criminals and rapists (The Washington Post). Furthermore, Trump had declared that as president he would end the Obama Administration’s DACA program, which temporarily shields undocumented students from deportation.

These remarks, combined with his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants once he became president, have struck fear amongst many Americans. As a result, there has been a cascade of entities that have declared themselves as “sanctuaries.” There has been a plethora of religious institutions, cities, municipalities and institutions of higher education that have ordained themselves with this status. The intent of this program is to protect undocumented individuals. According to a report by CNN, there have been over 80 colleges and universities that have declared their status as a “sanctuary campus” so far (USA Today). Since there is no legal basis for a “sanctuary,” there is no consensus over the definition of the status and the petitions that have been circulated in colleges and universities have varied in terms of policies.

One of the first institutions to declare themselves a “sanctuary” was Wesleyan University. The clause that was supported was “[the University] would not willingly assist with government efforts to deport undocumented students, faculty and staff” (The Atlantic). Offering clarification, María Blanco of the University of California’s Undocumented Legal Services Center argues that there are three components of a “sanctuary.” First, “a university [says] that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will not come on their campus to do immigration enforcement without warrants unless there’s an exigent circumstance” (Inside Higher Ed). Second, “a university police force will not act on behalf of federal agents to enforce immigration laws” (Inside Higher Ed). Lastly, institutions will protect the right to privacy of students’ information and protect any records that may identify the immigration status of their students.

Agreeing to this notion of a “sanctuary campus” is a bill sponsored by Republican Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (Congress).  However, this bill is part of the Republican effort that aims to actuate President Trump’s promises to defund sanctuaries. H.R. 483, which is titled “No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act,” aims to block federal funding from reaching institutions that have declared themselves “sanctuaries.” Trump’s verbal threat and Republican congressional efforts have scared and inhibited additional institutions from declaring themselves “sanctuaries.”

In New Jersey, there has been efforts among Senate Democrats to forestall this threat by offering to supplant funding for “municipalities” at risk of losing federal grant money. S-3007, which is titled “Establishes program to reimburse local governments for federal grant funds lost due to ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ status,” was sponsored by Senators Stack, Cunningham and Ruiz. Despite these efforts, there has been little or no known efforts of students, school administrators, activists and politicians to protect or supplant federal funding for “sanctuary campuses.” The outlook for undocumented students remains ambiguous as there have been sweeping raids and contradictory remarks made by the President in recent time that is open-ended (The Hill).

This is the main concern around the discussion of Ramapo College becoming a "sanctuary campus." While not completely opposed to the idea, President Peter Mercer is worried about the risk to the college.

“If we were at risk of losing federal funding, our endowment would by no means be sufficient to offset the resources that our students would otherwise receive,” he said.