Last month, in response to the results of the U.S. presidential election, a dozen student organizations signed a letter demanding that GW implement a host of changes. Some of these demands included expanding the sustainability office, paying staff members livable wages and making GW a sanctuary campus.
Although most of the demands are valid, students should focus first on dealing with how GW handles undocumented students. Similar to the idea of “sanctuary cities,” the goal of “sanctuary campuses” is to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and to provide support to undocumented immigrants attending the University. GW isn’t the only university at which students are pushing for a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Students are attempting to create sanctuary campuses at schools like Oberlin College, Brown University and New York University. While students at these schools and at GW followed the same general list of broad demands, students at other universities focused their letters, walk-outs, and marches specifically on establishing sanctuary campuses."
Pushing for a laundry list of left-leaning policy changes not only makes implementation less likely, it also may damage the sanctuary campus movement itself. The sanctuary campus movement is now being grouped with other demands – like divesting from fossil fuels – that officials may not consider. Narrowing the student groups’ lengthy list of demands to focus on making GW a sanctuary campus would make administrators more seriously consider the proposal.
President-elect Donald Trump openly supported a deportation force to remove illegal immigrants during his presidential campaign. And his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has openly justified the deportation of Asian immigrants who work in Silicon Valley. It is clear that the incoming president’s stance on immigration necessitates the implementation of additional protections for undocumented immigrants, especially students. If University officials fail to protect undocumented students, their lack of action will show a that GW doesn’t live up to its promises of inclusion and diversity.
Although the University currently offers advice and support for undocumented applicants during the admissions process, officials could do more to protect these students from the threat of deportation once they become students. As students at the University of Southern California noted, most sanctuary campus movements share three goals: ensuring that a university has a blanket policy of refusing to share personal information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents without a subpoena, forbidding ICE agents from operating in or entering university buildings without a warrant and creating policies to prevent a university's police department from aiding in, enforcing or otherwise supporting existing immigration law. GW’s movement likely supports the same things, but these messages have gotten lost in protesting other issues.
Student organizations should focus on getting administrators to implement these three policies quickly, in order to prevent a gap in protection for undocumented students once Trump is inaugurated in January. Failure to do so could leave students, who currently attend GW under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, without any guarantee that their admission status will be protected by the University.
University President Steven Knapp signed a letter in support of DACA, but the letter of support doesn’t mean much if the act is repealed altogether. Therefore, officials need to act now to make the campus a designated sanctuary before any executive action is taken next year.
In order to ensure the protection of all of its students, the University should openly implement policies that prevent ICE agents from accessing University-held personal information without a subpoena, ban ICE agents from operating or entering GW property without a warrant and ensure that UPD creates a policy preventing officers from aiding or abetting ICE agents who are enforcing immigration law.
GW must take concrete action to protect its most vulnerable students, and students fighting for change on campus should put their full efforts behind making GW a sanctuary campus.
Kendrick Baker, a junior double-majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.