Editorial: Denying Sanctuary Campus Status is Not Just Black and White

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

Despite the bitter cold and sounds of heavy metal machinery in the background, students, faculty and community members alike gathered on the campus mall in support of immigrant students.

The idea was to foster support for the petition for EWU to become a sanctuary campus, but what does that mean?

Let’s break it down first. By labeling EWU as a sanctuary campus, the administration would agree to protect the immigration status of students. They’d actively refuse to comply with immigration authorities, including denying the ability to perform raids and refusing to voluntarily provide any information to the fullest extent of the law. Finally, they would ensure all members of the campus community feel safe.

Keep in mind this is an extremely simplified explanation.

In November 2016, the Board of Trustees (BOT) denied the petition on the grounds that “EWU is much more than a safe harbor. While we continue efforts to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff, we also continue our profound commitment to launch an educated workforce for the region and state. Student success is the heart of our mission.”

The official statement goes on to say they will protect students privacy in compliance with the law and the government has the right to enforce immigration law. They aren’t technically wrong, student information and privacy is protected under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and doesn’t have to be presented without a warrant. For many students, this feels like a cop-out and that the university will put its own interests above their students when push comes to shove.

The government’s already pushing back against those cities that have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities. President Trump vowed to defund any city that labeled itself as a sanctuary city on the basis that they were harboring illegal immigrants. This has resulted in an enormous backlash from these cities not only against President Trump, but also within and between the states themselves.

You can almost see each fissure and crack spreading from city to city as the people rally either in protest or support of this decision. It seems like America is going to rip itself apart before this is over.

“This reminds me of the phrase, Charles Tilly, a great sociologist, made ‘War makes the state, fear mongering, war, makes the state.’ But now we have to say, states makes refugees,” EWU Professor Majid Sharifi said at the rally in response to the current fear based atmosphere around the country.

Students in favor of becoming a sanctuary campus support their argument on the basis that the university needs to provide a substantial, binding agreement to their students that they will do everything they can to protect them. As it stands now, students are faced with the fear that the moment things get too difficult for the university, they will step out of the way and let the authorities drag immigrant students away.

Jaclyn Archer, community relations officer for BSU and county vice chair for the Spokane County Democrats said in her speech “Some of us are more privileged than others. I am one of those some of us who live here, my citizenship is assured. I was born in the United States and that means that I have a voice with which I can speak up for those in more vulnerable positions.”

However, those who reject the idea of becoming a sanctuary campus use the argument that a sanctuary campus is a blanket policy. Sure it feels nice and warm and cozy, but when the hammer comes down it does absolutely nothing to truly protect you.

There are already laws in place that protect student records, and, in response to the clause in the petition that the university should “refuse all voluntary information sharing with ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) across all aspects of the University to the fullest extent possible under the law,” as it stands now no citizen has to give any information to the authorities without a warrant.

Therefore, the university doesn’t have to give the authorities any information without a warrant, making that point a little moot.

The university is sticking to the stance that “EWU campus police do not partner with federal, state, or other local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law. The university is committed to the privacy of student records for all students, consistent with state and federal laws,” as stated in a campus-wide email.

The problem with this issue is that it is easy to empathize with both sides of the argument. While it is fundamentally wrong to discriminate against anyone based on their nation of origin or the color of their skin, does the university really have a responsibility to put themselves on the line for their students? Should they stand tall against the government and say no, no you cannot, will not take these students.

What happens when the president loses his marbles and starts taking funding away from any school that defines itself as a sanctuary? He has already decided the stance of a city board is justification enough to punish the entire city. What happens when he decides the stance of a university is justification enough to punish the students who attend that school?

Is it worth it then?

But then, tell us, what happens when people become so terrified of repercussions they revert to the old ways of hiding themselves away. When the fear is so palpable, so tangible that it chokes the will out of every citizen? Do we really want to live in a society that persecutes people based on where they’re from or what they look like?

History has seen time and time again what happens when people decide one type of people is better or deserves more than another. Think of the Holocaust. If that’s too extreme, think of the war over slavery, when people were so terrified of being hunted down they hid underground and had to rely on the kindness and strength of others to survive. History proves persecution will not stand.

Honestly, the concept of a sanctuary campus seems to live in that fuzzy gray area between right and wrong. Here’s hoping that the world has seen enough carnage and hatred to understand that kindness and acceptance should be the goal of the day.

We can’t tell you what to think or where to stand on this issue, but what we can do is make sure we help those who need us.

As Archer said, the best thing you can do is walk up and say “I’m willing, I’m here and how can I help?”