…it means nothing…
…it means everything.
…It’s purely symbolic…
…it will get us in trouble.
Rumors swirl about the current movement to adopt sanctuary campus policies in universities and K-12 schools. Emerging from immigrant rights and students of color organizations, the #SanctuaryCampus movement responds to threats made against immigrant and Muslim communities during the presidential campaign, and to the skyrocketing incidences of hate crimes since the election in early November. A majority of these hate crimes are taking place in schools and on university campuses.
This week, the UWM Faculty Senate will consider a Sanctuary Campus resolution. [Adopted unanimously 12/15/16.] Inspired by the work of the UWM student group, Young People’s Resistance Committee, on a petition that is currently circulating, a group of faculty collaborated to draft this resolution. The resolution asks the administration to affirm and enhance the campus’ guiding values on behalf of the many students, faculty and staff who are members of groups that have already been targeted for harassment and hate crimes and who fear they may be subject to repressive regulations, deportation, or forced registration: immigrants and international students, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people, people of color.
What is at stake here is nothing less than whether universities can continue to be places of public access to education and the exchange of ideas. The #SanctuaryCampus movement recognizes that the mounting climate of intolerance and divisiveness impedes open access to work and study. At the same time that we have witnessed assaults on academic freedom affecting research and teaching at UWM, many of our students and colleagues are becoming vulnerable to repression and harassment. Further, we acknowledge that these impediments may well increase in the coming months and years. Recognizing that it is difficult to predict the future, we nonetheless call upon our administration to respond to the current climate of fear and division by becoming preemptive and proactive in our collective defense.
The Sanctuary Campus resolution seeks support for undocumented students, some of whom who may face loss of access to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status, those who may have more trouble negotiating visas and international travel, those who may face harassment on or off campus. Further, we call on the campus administration to direct UWM police to decline to assist with immigration raids.
The administration fears that adopting a Sanctuary Campus policy might compel them to violate federal immigration law. In fact, it does not: the resolution acknowledges that in the case that the Department of Homeland Security or other federal agency presents a legal warrant, campus police are compelled by law to cooperate with them. Declaring our campus a “sanctuary campus” communicates the message that our campus prioritizes the well-being of students, staff and faculty, and plans to do everything within its powers to protect their rights as such.
The idea of a “sanctuary campus” emanates from the Sanctuary Movement, a faith-based movement that sheltered refugees from the “Dirty Wars” in Central America in the 1980s. In 1982 Milwaukee became the first Catholic Archdiocese to embrace this movement, which eventually took root in Protestant and Jewish congregations as well. The Sanctuary Movement took inspiration from “Cities of Refuge” in the Old Testament, in which individuals pursued for crimes committed in error could find refuge, justice and even forgiveness. Those taking part in the Sanctuary Movement risked violating some aspects of federal law because they felt that their faith called them to protect the vulnerable. Though it does not call for violating the law, #SanctuaryCampus responds to a similar urgency.
In the past decade, a New Sanctuary Movement has once again emerged from faith based communities. Starting in 2006 with the well-publicized case of Elvira Arellano, who took sanctuary in a Chicago church until she was arrested and deported, the New Sanctuary Movement offers support and solidarity to the thousands of people faced with the reality of deportation. In Milwaukee, Muslim, Jewish and Christian congregations participate in the New Sanctuary Movement, which holds monthly services as well as vigils in front of the local Immigration Customs Enforcement agency.
A Sanctuary City movement has swept the country.Close to fifty cities around the nation have joined this movement, declining to sign up for the federal 287(g) program, which asks local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Both the city and the county of Milwaukee have ratified sanctuary policies.
Like the word “amnesty,” “sanctuary” has become a charged term, partly because of the success of the Sanctuary Movement. Politicians like president-elect Donald Trump and Milwaukee County sheriff Dave Clark claim that to provide sanctuary is to encourage and to shelter crime. Allegations like these foster fears that creating a sanctuary campus may invite political retribution. In Georgia, one state legislator responded to an attempt to create a sanctuary campus at Emory University by threatening to pass an anti-sanctuary bill defunding the campus of state revenues. These threats enhance fears on and off campus. But an attempt to pass an “Anti-Sanctuary Cities” bill failed in Wisconsin last year. And even if such a policy were to revive and succeed, the campus would have sufficient time to adjust any policies deemed out of line.
Clearly, as a public institution, the state university system of Wisconsin cannot establish as its official policy the violation of state and federal law. We can, however, make it the position of our campus that all are welcome here; we can also make it clear that peaceful civil disobedience in pursuit of personal security and social justice is not inimical to our work. By protecting our collective rights to education, #SanctuaryCampus ensures that the boundaries of the university continue to embrace the entire state, thereby realizing the Wisconsin Idea.