DeKALB | NIU officials vowed to continue offering services and forms of protection to undocumented students despite declining a request to become a sanctuary campus.
The national demand for sanctuary campuses grew when President Donald Trump made campaign promises regarding mass deportations of undocumented individuals and the building of a wall along the sourthern U.S. border, according to a Dec. 19 USA Today article. It continued to gain momentum when Trump signed an executive order Jan. 28 temporarily banning travel for immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
According to a Jan. 30 email from President Doug Baker, officials “pledge that [they] will do everything [they] possibly can within the limits of the law to continue to support [their] undocumented students.”
“It is not a legal protection,” said Laura Vivaldo, president of DREAM Action NIU, which aims to spread awareness of the struggles faced by undocumented students and provide them with resources, according to the organization’s website. “There is no legal weight to it, but I don’t understand why [Baker] didn’t do it because [DREAM Action NIU was] asking him to publicly state that the campus is a sanctuary.”
The idea of a sanctuary campus mirrors that of a sanctuary city — one which protects undocumented immigrants by not reporting their arrests to federal officials, depending on the severity of the crime. Sanctuary cities include Chicago, New York and Boston. However, sanctuary campuses are “not defined by or recognized under the law and do not offer any special rights, immunities or protections,” according to the email.
Students, staff and faculty presented the administration with a petition requesting that NIU take on the status of a sanctuary campus in December, which led administrators to research the legal stipulations of doing so, according to a statement published by the Undocumented Student Resources office. Denial of the request was announced in Baker’s email.
Faculty and students began crafting the petition following the presidential election, said history professor Beatrix Hoffman, who partook in the writing process. The petition, which circulated on social media, had more than 600 signatures from students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members in 10 days.
“[Those involved in writing the petition] saw that other campuses were circulating these petitions, so we looked at some examples and used some of their language but also added some of our own that applied to our campus,” Hoffman said.
University officials across the nation have avoided donning the label of a sanctuary campus due to fear of backlash, according to a Jan. 26 New York Times article. A house bill has been proposed and called the “No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act,” which would prohibit funding to higher education institutions that violate immigration laws.
Officials at other universities have also been presented with petitions requesting that the institution be labeled a sanctuary campus, including the University of Notre Dame, according to a Feb. 6 Washington Post article.
No Illinois university has been declared a sanctuary campus.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
One line of defense protecting undocumented students is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order protecting certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age from deportation that came in to action in 2012 under former President Barack Obama’s administration, according to uscis.org. Some refer to those protected by the program as “Dreamers.”
Trump threatened to immediately dismantle the program during his campaign, which has provided protection for more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants, according to a Jan. 5 Pew Research Center article. He has the power to revoke the program at any time because it is an executive order.
However, after taking office, Trump has eased this threat and said he wants to focus more on undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, according to a Jan. 23 LA Times article.
Protective measures for undocumented students
Administrators vowed to continue offering the bias reporting policy, which allows individuals to report incidents involving bias against an individual or community based on things such as race, according to the statement on the Undocumented Student Resources website.
Additionally, NIU police officers will not detain or arrest anybody solely based on suspicions relating to his or her immigration status, according to the statement.
“Northern Illinois University Police and Public Safety respect our socially rich and diverse community by treating all people with fairness and dignity,” according to the statement. “In respect to federal civil immigration law, we hold firm that enforcement generally rests with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and not with state, local and university police.”
Representatives from the police department did not respond to a request for comment.
DREAM Action NIU
Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden said the administration will continue working with student groups such as DREAM Action NIU.
“Undocumented students have always had NIU’s commitment in terms of support,” Edghill-Walden said.
Members of the organization, including Vivaldo, were involved with the petition.
Vivaldo said DREAM Action NIU members wanted officials to reaffirm NIU’s position regarding undocumented students in a public fashion.
“It was a safe move because you don’t want your university to be a target and lose your funding,” Vivaldo said. “We don’t have funding to begin with because [Illinois doesn’t] have a budget still.”