Should Universities Be “Sanctuaries” for Illegal Immigrants?

On November 16, thousands of students at public and private universities across the country walked out of classes to protest the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. One of their main goals was to urge college officials to declare their campuses as “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants—a controversial move that could start a political battle and jeopardize billions of dollars in federal and state funding to universities.

The movement is a response to President-elect Trump’s stated intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary exemption from deportation for people who enter the United States illegally as children. (President Obama introduced the program through executive order in 2012.)

Also, a 2011 memo requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to seek pre-approval for any arrests or searches made on college campuses, but the new administration could walk back some of those restrictions. President-elect Trump has already vowed to cut federal funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities, and a similar response to the university movement is likely given Trump’s strong reaction to the recent terrorist attack at Ohio State University, carried out by a Somali refugee student.

The sanctuary campus concept stems from “sanctuary cities” that have cropped up in recent years. Those cities, such as San Francisco and Denver, intend to not cooperate with federal officials seeking to deport illegal aliens. The recent campus protests were coordinated by Movimiento Cosecha, an organization with similar aims. It wants to inspire “massive civil resistance and non-cooperation in order to win permanent protection, dignity and respect for our people, the immigrant community.”

One hundred campuses joined the November 16 walkout, including eight North Carolina institutions: UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina State University, Salem College, Guilford College, Duke University, and Davidson College. After the walkout, students began circulating petitions that make various demands relating to illegal immigrant students on campus.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s petition, which has received over 3,500 signatures, states that the university must “declare its support for and protection of undocumented people and their families on our campus and in your community.” It also demands that university officials refuse to assist with immigration authorities in their deportations or raids, invest resources to train students to be more “inclusive” of undocumented students, and publicly declare the campus to be a refuge for students facing deportation.

At Duke University, a petition calls for establishing a fund for immigration-related legal proceedings and providing refuge for students, staff, family, and community members who are in the country illegally. Almost 2,000 people have signed the petition. More than 100 similar petitions are circulating at campuses nationwide.

From the protesters’ perspective, all of this pressure appears to be paying off. Already, 29 colleges have proclaimed their campuses to be sanctuaries. And in the last two weeks, more than 250 university presidents—including those at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Davidson, Wake Forest, and Guilford—have signed a public letter calling continuation of the DACA program a “moral imperative” and “national necessity.”

Other officials have adopted a more brazen stance, even if they’ve refrained from calling their universities sanctuaries. For example, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, has implemented a new policy that prohibits campus police from cooperating with local, state, and federal immigration officials. It’s clear that this movement is based on more than a few scattered protests; it has the backing of major leaders in higher education.

Schools supporting this movement, however, are operating on unsure legal footing; those opposing immigration authorities could face major negative repercussions. A Georgia lawmaker has promised to cut state funding to universities that declare themselves sanctuaries. And in a Pope Center interview, University of North Carolina System Board of Governors (BOG) member William Mitchell said universities failing to comply with federal law would “put at risk several billion dollars of federal funding.”

In North Carolina, state law bans cities from adopting “sanctuary” policies, although nothing explicitly prohibits universities from doing so. Steve Long, also a BOG member, said in an interview, “I believe that administrators understand that they must comply with law enforcement…. To do otherwise would be a violation of public trust.”

But the response earlier this year to North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2—the “bathroom bill”—may have set a bad precedent. In the wake of its passage, UNC system President Margaret Spellings proclaimed the law to be unenforceable, thereby giving universities the opportunity to avoid compliance. If that mindset is applied to state and federal immigration laws, we may soon see universities in the Tar Heel State declare their “sanctuary” status, especially since they will face even more pressure to support the movement.

Preparations are underway for nationwide “escalation” protests at campuses that have not yet announced their sanctuary status. According to a conference call with Moviemento Cosecha organizers, this will entail either another walkout or the occupation of campus buildings. Still, there are doubts about the sanctuary movement’s long-term viability, given all of the legal and political issues at play. Declaring “sanctuary” status could end up just being a feel-good gesture.

According to documents obtained by Campus Reform, even leaders within the movement don’t know whether their efforts will withstand legal scrutiny. Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers told organizers that “it sounds like, unless people come up with a novel legal strategy, universities can’t legally protect students from deportation.” And Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, described the sanctuary movement as a “symbolic effort” in an Inside Higher Ed interview. “I’m not sure [that] sanctuary resolutions carry much legal weight,” he said.

At any rate, the sanctuary movement appears to be yet another example of higher education’s ultra-leftist fringe pushing an aggressive social justice agenda, with little or no resistance. In an article about last fall’s widespread racially charged campus protests, the Pope Center’s Jesse Saffron described a situation in which “academia is being turned on its head, with the least knowledgeable and least mature members of the academic community assuming command based on their emotions.” The sanctuary movement is proceeding in a similar vein; an increasing number of administrators are bending to the will of student protestors, and in the process undermining respect for the rule of law.

In this instance, however, caving to student demands would be more than just a moral failure. It would jeopardize funding, ongoing police investigations, and campus safety. It would provide further support for the idea that higher education is a failing American institution, increasingly beholden to its most radical, extremist factions. University officials should ensure that the institutions they lead, which do so much good for so many people, don’t attempt to score political points in the short-term at the expense of more important long-term considerations.

  • Fissile48

    Sure, why not? Put two or three in every dorm room and they can tidy up while the resident snowflake is at class.

  • Phil Christensen

    The parents of every student who signed the petition must take in at least one “undocumented student.” Problem solved. On so many levels.

  • Clean Willie

    Jeff Sessions needs to make a few high profile examples of these people. Pick a few likely candidates, give all their correspondence a complete and thorough rectal exam and prosecute on any evidence of conspiracy to obstruct the enforcement of federal law. Cutting federal funding is a good start, but seeing a few high municipal officials and maybe a university president or two perp walked into court would be delicious.

    • DrOfnothing

      Don’t forget to add a kangaroo trial and a few stake-burnings. If we’re going to have a witch-hunt, let’s do it proper!

      • PAUL NALL

        Its called a hunt for illegal immigrants. To get them out of America! It’s gonna be a good fun hunt! Dont u know they use to do that befor Obama became The President of America? Elect PRESIDENT Donald Trump is going to sign it back into law again! That’s all! He gonna give them there jobs back to them that they had before!

  • mnemonicmike

    Why does the Left always want to break the laws? Ever hear of lefties trying to enforce laws unless it was a law that they liked?

    • DrOfnothing

      Sounds just like Conservatives, and the current Republican president, who has proposed, what, at least a dozen unconstitutional policies already?

      • mnemonicmike

        I’m not a conservative …. I simply recognize that the Leftist/Democrats are the enemies of the United States. It’s pretty obvious.

        • DrOfnothing

          That is rather a strong accusation against the many Democrats that fought in recent wars and the many veterans who voted for Hilary Clinton (Colin Powell). Can you elaborate on how they were “enemies of the United States?”

          • mnemonicmike

            The majority of the fighting military are Republicans, not Democrats, just like almost all of the criminals in US prisons are Democrats, not Republicans.

            Lemme grab some example of enemy of the United States. OK, we have immigration laws that Democrats refuse to enforce. Illegal immigrants kill and estimated 3,000 US citizens every year, so Democrats are responsible for those deaths. That’s one good example.

          • DrOfnothing

            “Illegal immigrants kill and estimated 3,000 US citizens every year.” Citation, please.

            “almost all of the criminals in US prisons are Democrats, not Republicans.” Again, citation please. BTW, felons can’t vote, so that’s rather a moot point anyway.

          • PAUL NALL

            Liberals are responsible for it. They could be Democrats. But most are liberals! Thank you

        • PAUL NALL

          It is liberals and radical liberals that are against the United States!

      • mnemonicmike

        Why don’t you wait until he’s president before you start criticizing his policies? Then you’d have something factual to say instead of building strawman arguments.

        • DrOfnothing

          These aren’t “strawman arguments” (you are misusing the term in any case, I’m afraid). He’s already destabilised nearly three decades of bridge-building with China. You’re right, these aren’t policies _yet_, but his proposals are unconstitutional. Even a president-elect’s words have power. I suppose one could argue that “he doesn’t mean what he says,” but then, why sat it in the first place?

          • mnemonicmike

            You’re staggering around spouting gibberish. You label what he said as “unconstitutional” … let me assure you, his rights to *opinions* are constitutional. “Unconstitutional” would be a term applied to laws he signs into effect. Until he’s done something substantive, your argument is simply using your opinion as a substitute for something he *might* do … and that is a strawman argument which you proceed to topple.

          • DrOfnothing

            Let me be more specific–he is proposing policies that would be unconstitutional. His public statements are merely reckless, ill-informed, and entirely unfitting for a man about to assume control of the most powerful country in the world.

        • goldushapple

          DrOfNothing is a typical modern day leftist. Do not expect anything but sophistry filled with excuses.

          As you discovered “You’re staggering around spouting gibberish.” This is DrOfNothing’s MO, thinking that he is well-read and educated. He none of those things.

          • DrOfnothing

            Wait, copperpeach, I thought I was a “progressive bridge troll?” You really need to keep your insults in order–I think you are confusing yourself. BTW, I see you have a powerful, compelling new ally in Paul Nall. You two share a lot in common (repetitive and unoriginal, but profoundly passionate in your ignorance). You should get together and go virtual bowling.

      • PAUL NALL

        Lets hope so! I pray that Donald Trump does past these policies. And trow these bums out of America! That could take your job over! If u like them so much! Why wont you let them come and live with you?

        • DrOfnothing

          Yes! Like much! Many rooms! Come live! Hate job, please take!

          • PAUL NALL

            Why don’t you let them have your job too?

  • boater1217

    Having gone to college in the late sixties after serving in Vietnam, I see some summaries to the current unrest on campus. I think the majority of these kids are looking for a cause, to bad we can’t come up with a more productive one. I live in a college town and the “snowflakes” are really unbelievable in their lookout on life.

  • Nat Rev

    No. And those universities should lose their Title IV funding.

  • klaffner

    Keep it up guys. Suddenly the idea that only a small percentage of illegals are violent criminal predators won’t seem all that statistically important to even your run of the mill, flower child of the 60’s, upper middle class, white guilt parent. Even they will disqualify sanctuary colleges from consideration when it is their own child who is looking at a 4 year stint.

  • SpiderGawd

    No federal money. and no student loans/grants to those attending. And revoke (if applicable) their non-profit, tax exempt status.

    Threaten the paycheck and/or lifestyle and their wonderful SJW principles will be put away into cold storage.

  • FlushRyan

    US Department of Education can add to its criteria for accreditation that college not harbor criminal illegal aliens. Failure to do so will mean the colleges are not accredited, cannot receive federal research funds, nor are student eligible to receive federal student loans or Pell Grants.

    This is how the Obama Administration handled their Title IX requirements. Do it or loose everything.

    • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

      The PPA’s that schools sign for Title IV include the requirement that they follow ALL rules and regulations. It is already in there. Just get a copy and read it.

      • TheDon

        Remember, you’ve got liberals in the bowels of federal govt ‘enforcing’ a rule on liberal admins in universities.

        They only put the hammer down if its something liberals care about … like getting transgender men into women’s bathrooms etc. it will take a lot of effort top-down to move the bureaucrats.

  • nick

    They should. Rich Elite American universities don’t look anything like the real World. Not even close. They are bubbles of idyllic affluence. Making them sanctuaries for criminal illegal aliens would teach students – who are mostly upper class and affluent themselves – a valuable education about the real World and real life. It would also be a just.

    • ytzpzvgk

      Yes, and make the little snowflakes pay for their tuition too. Why not? If the immigrants are going to be hanging around all day, they might as well learn something. The American students can pay for the tuition too.

  • TheDon

    Just weeks after a somali immigrant engaged in a knife attack, it would be beyond irresponsible for campus leaders to decide they could violate Federal law, it would put their own students at risk.

    • DrOfnothing

      He was a legal immigrant, as was his family, for the record.

      • PAUL NALL

        It doesn’t matter if he is a legal or illegal immigrant Obama should not let them in our country. We have more people then jobs here. It’s time to get them out of here. We don’t need any more of them. Goodbye immigration go back to your country bye bye.

  • DrOfnothing

    I am embarrassed for both the author and the commentators that they should express such full-throated support for Trump’s policies on immigration. They are not only draconian and McCarthyite, but likely unconstitutional and certainly incredibly expensive. It is estimated that his plans might cost upwards of 500 billion dollars. Yet more hyporcisy by Conservatives–“we are for limited, affordable government . . . except when it comes to the following 300 policies.”

    I also find it morally repugnant that so many, Keaveney included, would so willingly embrace the idea of “mass deportations,” which fly in the face of this country’s founding principles of liberty and justice for _all_. Clearly, no one here has seen what is written on the side of the Statue of Liberty, the very symbol of this nation’s most noble aspirations:

    ” Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

    This isn’t a Left-Right issue. It’s about being a good American and respecting the spirit of this nation’s founders.


      It is sickened that 0bama the Administration let all these illegal immigrants in are Country & schools. And how these illegal immigrants protest cause they don’t like & want are American way of life! They want to change it. They want Sharia law and other crazy customs & Laws! And how these colleges are brainwashing the youth today. That’s what sickening in America!

      • DrOfnothing

        So Illegal, such sicken, many customs, is crazy!-Doge


      How would you throw them out of the country? Are you a liberal? Are you for Donald Trump on Trump?

      • DrOfnothing

        I . . . no, I can’t, it would just be too easy. Let me say this, though, for the record, I am definitely for hot Trump on Trump action (please provide the link).

  • goldushapple

    Easy answer: No.

    And I see DrOfNothing has left his thoughts here. Go figure. Such controversial social issues he will show up.


    Yes I agree what Donald Trump that they should Deport illegal students!