Activists and Undocumented Students Disappointed By Sanctuary Campus Decision

Undocumented students and activists said they are disappointed by University President Drew G. Faust’s decision not to label Harvard a "sanctuary campus" following the presidential election, although they remain optimistic that many of her proposals to protect undocumented immigrants will make the University similar to such a campus in practice, if not in name.

Rally for a Sanctuary Campus
Students attend a rally in support of Harvard becoming a sanctuary campus in the Science Center Plaza on Tuesday. University President Drew G. Faust announced during Tuesday’s Faculty meeting that Harvard would not be a sanctuary campus.

The “sanctuary campus” title is a relatively new one and mirrors the “sanctuary city” status that several municipalities, including Boston and Cambridge, have adopted. Immediately following Trump’s victory in the election, several institutions, including Wesleyan University and the University of Pennsylvania, labeled themselves as sanctuaries, vowing to protect undocumented students who may be affected by the anti-immigrant policies Trump has promised to enact.

Two weeks ago, Faust sent an email to Harvard affiliates promising her “clear and unequivocal support” for undocumented students, faculty, and staff at the University. In the message, she proposed a number of initiatives, including a “single, University-wide point of connection” for undocumented affiliates seeking resources for immigration concerns. She also clarified that the Harvard University Police Department “is not involved in enforcing federal immigration laws.”

At a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting on Tuesday, Faust joined the presidents of Brown University and Princeton University in declining to adopt sanctuary status, citing a lack of “legal significance” in the term. She also said it "risks drawing special attention to the students in ways that could put their status in greater jeopardy.”

Several undocumented students and organizers who met with Faust two weeks ago called the decision disappointing but unsurprising.

“The term ‘sanctuary campus’ was more symbolism than anything, and during our meeting with Faust, we weighed the costs and benefits of that symbolism,” Paulo J. Pinto ’19, an undocumented immigrant and board member of immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream, said. “She just thought that the costs outweighed the pros.”

Maribel Nava ’20, a member of Act on a Dream and some of whose family members are undocumented, said adopting the sanctuary campus label would have provided “mental security” to those who fear Trump’s immigration policy will harm them.

“We’re doing a lot of things that are happening on sanctuary campuses,” Nava said. “But declaring Harvard a sanctuary would have been such a big moral step.”

Some students questioned the logic behind Faust’s decision. Allyson R. Perez ’17, an organizer with Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard, sharply criticized Faust’s rhetoric, calling the announcement “extremely frustrating.”

Many said the decision is disheartening given the widespread student and faculty support for the protection of undocumented immigrants. A petition authored by Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard gathered more than 4,000 signatures in the week following the presidential election. Hundreds of professors signed a letter urging Faust to champion Harvard’s undocumented students.

Although dissatisfied with Faust’s announcement, several members of Act on a Dream said they are hopeful about other measures the University will take to protect Harvard’s undocumented community, many of which mirror policies adopted by sanctuary campuses.

“The other steps she’s willing to carry out are the same things happening at sanctuary campuses, so taking the name would have been a purely symbolic gesture,” Pinto said.

“All I care about are the practical things, so the symbolism doesn’t really matter to me,” Enrique Ramirez ’17, an undocumented immigrant and board member of Act on a Dream, said. “What really matters is that people are safe.”

—Staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at marella.gayla@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @marellagayla.

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