Many colleges around the nation are debating over the prospect of offering sanctuary to students without legal immigration papers due to President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric about illegal immigrants. According to the New York Times, Wesleyan University was one of the first to declare “sanctuary campus” status, proclaiming that the college “‘will not voluntarily assist” any efforts by federal authorities to deport students.” Columbia University followed Wesleyan’s example, echoing a similar sentiment. So where does Ramapo College fit in all of this?
In President Peter Mercer’s state of the college address delivered on February 8, Mercer came out against the idea of labeling Ramapo as a sanctuary campus. Mercer proclaimed: “Declaring ourselves a sanctuary campus, which while it is a term not formally defined, could place us at risk of losing federal funding, and while we have a robust endowment, it is by no means sufficient to offset the resources our students receive from the federal government.” How realistic is this cut in funding?
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to threaten or impose funding cuts in order to coerce state governments to enforce or comply with federal statutes. It is also possible for the state of New Jersey to provide additional funds to sanctuary campuses, which is something that the Democratic state legislature is looking into. The threat to funding is a moot point, but if worst comes to worst, Ramapo College can always regain lost funding in the future. However, Ramapo cannot regain lost morality and respect.
On the administrative front, it seems that not naming Ramapo College a “sanctuary campus” could violate Ramapo’s own Values Statement. The Ramapo College Values Statement states, “we are an open, inclusive, supportive and sustainable community.” Ramapo College cannot continue to be “open, inclusive, supportive and sustainable” if it declines “sanctuary campus” status, virtually abandoning their students in need right now.
The words “illegal,” “undocumented” and “aliens” are thrown around a lot in this debate. It is often forgotten that these are people; beyond that, they are humans whose homes were so unbearable that they felt they would be better off being the hated, exploited minority in America rather than staying in their home countries.
This debate is not about “us versus them.” It is a false dichotomy to assume that America cannot help both undocumented people and American citizens at the same time. America is the greatest country in the world. Do not tell me America cannot help others as well as its citizens simultaneously.
The Trump administration has continued to show that they will not support immigrants without legal documentation, which include the friends, families and neighbors of fellow students, not to mention some students themselves. Ramapo College must be at the front of the push to declare “sanctuary campus” status, and they should not succumb to an abusive and bullying presidential administration. In President Mercer’s State of the College Address, he stated, “Now is the time to reassert the primary virtues of a liberal arts education and Ramapo College’s fundamental commitment to our students.” Yes, President Mercer, now is the time.