On May 1, Drexel Socialists held a demonstration protesting Drexel University administration’s refusal to declare the school a sanctuary campus.
There doesn’t seem to be a strict definition of sanctuary campus. The consensus seems to be that if a university declares itself a sanctuary campus, it means that it will offer certain protections for undocumented students. The term is a spin-off of sanctuary cities, which are cities that do not fully cooperate with government officials when it comes to deporting undocumented immigrants.
Despite threats from President Trump to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities, Philadelphia remains one of them (though Mayor Kenney prefers the official term Fourth Amendment City).
Drexel President John A. Fry explained in an email to the university community Dec. 9 that the university would not be designating itself a sanctuary campus. At first, this decision may seem like a blow to those who support undocumented students. However, this was a heavily nuanced and carefully considered call – and it is important to understand all aspects behind it before making a judgment.
The decision, as Fry explained in the email, did not stem from a lack of support. Rather, it was much the opposite. He explained this in the context of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to receive renewable two-year deferred action periods.
“DACA is a sensible, humane and helpful program, and Drexel fully supports it. Moreover, if DACA is suspended or repealed, the University will support our undocumented students to the fullest extent of the law,” the email read.
“Such a declaration [of sanctuary campus status] may have some appeal, but the concept has no basis in law and the University has no authority to bar enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws on its campus. And by making it clear that we respect the rule of law, the University is more likely to receive a good hearing in the event that DACA comes under review again,” the email continued.
What Fry said, as far as we can tell, was basically that declaring the university a sanctuary campus has more cons than pros for undocumented students. While it is a declaration of support, is not a legal designation, and thus does not inherently carry any actual protections for those students. On the other hand, it may signal to the government a possible unwillingness to cooperate with the law. By remaining in good standing with government officials, the university hopes that officials will look favorably upon our school when deciding whether they should preserve our student’s DACA rights, should that ever come under consideration.
This issue is more complicated than sanctuary campus or not; it’s not a binary choice. Rather than focusing on labels that don’t carry any actual legal standing, students should ensure that they understand the complexity of the university’s stance.