Student Life Column

Sanctuary or not, Syracuse University has a responsibility to enforce policies protecting undocumented students

Eleven days in and President Donald Trump has signed more than 10 executive orders — one of which concerns “sanctuary” cities like Syracuse.

The executive order threatens to strip federal funding from cities that have declared themselves as “sanctuary.” But, under the 10th Amendment, the federal government cannot force state government to enforce federal law. This includes forcing state police to unlawfully hand over any undocumented immigrants. It is unclear how or if Trump will be able to actually follow through with these threats. Nonetheless, this dramatic decision spurs confusion about what this means for sanctuary campuses.

Despite some pressure from the university community, Chancellor Kent Syverud has withheld any official declaration that Syracuse University is a sanctuary campus. But he also reassured the university’s responsibility to its students — no matter their immigration status — in his speech to the SU community earlier this month and in a campus-wide email sent Monday.

If being a sanctuary campus means SU will protect its undocumented students and help them develop the roots for a successful future, then SU should be a sanctuary campus. But if SU is willing to take these measures without declaring itself a sanctuary campus, that works, too.

“Sanctuary” is just a word, and words don’t have meaning if there’s no action behind them.

This is why the simple action of declaring SU a sanctuary campus isn’t as important as the student body thinks it is. The most pressing task for Syverud and his administration is to reinforce and create policies that legally and financially support and protect undocumented students.

Some school officials may worry about the risk of losing federal funding but, Christopher Lasch, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver, said there is no current condition attached to grant funding that requires campuses disclose all their students’ information to federal immigration officials. And the United States’ sensitive locations policy discourages U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement involvement at locations such as hospitals, religious institutions and schools.

“The value that they add to our community is more important than enforcing immigration laws,” Lasch said. “So, as a general rule, ICE doesn’t currently do any enforcement at those locations.”

A clarification of the term “sanctuary campus” and the potential consequences of becoming one need to be explained to the university community before any decision can be made. It’s unclear, to some, whether a sanctuary campus simply means a safe and welcoming environment or a space immune to any interference from ICE.

The term “sanctuary campus” itself shouldn’t be taken at face value because it only communicates the idea of a movement that allows “all members of the community to understand that this is a sanctuary where people’s dignity and their status is respected,” said Marcus Lane, a sophomore policy studies major at SU who wrote the Student Association’s resolution to become a sanctuary campus, which is still up for a vote.

The values of a sanctuary campus are all fine and dandy, but what’s really important are the policies that reside underneath the name, because that’s what will actually make a difference.

There are policies that already exist that protect students and their information. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents schools from disclosing students’ personal information, whether it be age, sex, medical history or immigration status, Lane said.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, enacted under former President Barack Obama’s administration, protects undocumented individuals who arrived in the country as minors and have since enrolled in education from being deported. If Trump decides to rescind the policy, undocumented students risk deportation.

In any case, SU should financially support undocumented students through scholarships, which would allow them to keep their seat at the university in the event that their federal aid is taken away. SU should also work to provide accessible legal counsel to those who find themselves in a situation with ICE. And the university has a responsibility to its students to withhold any personal information unless presented with a warrant.

Due to the ambiguity of the Trump administration’s intentions for immigration policy, it’s difficult to predict any financial consequences of becoming a sanctuary campus. But there is definitely cause for concern, considering Trump has hit the ground running with executive orders.

In the email sent to the SU community on Monday, Syverud reassured students, faculty and staff that the university will support those affected by Trump’s executive orders against immigration. Tony Callisto, senior vice president for safety and chief law Enforcement officer of SU, also sent a campus-wide email telling the community that DPS will not involve itself in immigration matters without legal directives.

Thankfully, Syverud has shown the SU community that a conversation about our threatened students has begun, and hopefully he will make good on the promise of an internationally inclusive university.

Even if sanctuary isn’t in our name, if Syverud truly means he will stand by and support our undocumented students, SU better be prepared to stand by its entire student body and face Trump’s administration — policies locked and loaded.

Aishwarya Sukesh is a freshman magazine journalism and psychology dual major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @AishuSukesh.


Top Stories