Don't force universities to enforce immigration laws

Author: Rebecca Corrente

When state Sen. Michael Delph and Michael Young introduced Senate Bill 423, which would make so-called “sanctuary campuses” illegal in the Indiana, they tapped into a debate that has gripped college and university campuses across the state and the country.

At Notre Dame, where I work, students, staff and faculty — including the student government and the Faculty Senate — have pushed for our president, Father John Jenkins, to declare our campus a sanctuary in the aftermath of November’s election.  To those of us active in the movement, sanctuary means protecting students who currently benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — and, importantly, other undocumented students — even after its predicted repeal.  Currently, students who were brought to the United States as children without proper documentation but who meet a number of requirements, have access to Notre Dame because DACA provides protections for both students and the university.  In advocating to have Notre Dame declared a sanctuary, we are attempting to make it clear that we will continue to include undocumented students even when those protections disappear, but we are also doing something more: we are saying that all students, regardless of citizenship status, are full members of what we call the “Notre Dame Family.”

So far, Jenkins has not used the word "sanctuary," but he has affirmed his commitment to undocumented students and put in place many of the measures suggested by a petition, signed by more than 4,600 members of the Notre Dame family, that student activists ceremoniously delivered to his office on Nov. 16.  A beautiful mass at the the Basilica (which Jenkins attended) underscored the university’s commitments to immigrant and refugee communities.

No one can fully predict what will happen if DACA is cancelled, but I trust that Notre Dame will stay true to its commitments to undocumented students.  Other schools across the state, especially those lacking a Catholic mission to uphold and which, as public institutions, are more obviously at the mercy of state lawmakers, will not be so lucky and might be forced to make some very difficult decisions about how fully to comply with the law.

Delph and Young’s strategy is to make state colleges and universities look and act more like governmental agencies.  Senate Bill 423 attempts to expand “the definition of "governmental body" to include state educational institutions in Indiana — a worrisome conceit when applied to institutions of higher learning — and explicitly compels “educational institutions with in-state campuses from restricting any governmental body's efforts regarding obtaining, maintaining, or sharing information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of an individual.”  This is a reactionary and misguided response to the campus sanctuary movement, one that has the potential to turn colleges and universities against their own students.

The Senate passed SB 423 this past week. If it gains further traction, it will be a serious attack on the undocumented students currently at Notre Dame and the professors like me who are proud to serve them.  The term “sanctuary,” use of which the bill explicitly forbids, is a powerful concept because it connotes that campus is a place of refuge and protection, where students from around the world, including those brought to the United States as children but who find themselves without legal status in this country, can pursue their goals and dreams.  We are, to put it mildly, not in the business of enforcing America’s borders.  And nor should we, or any Indiana institution of higher education, be forced to act as such.

Ruiz is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches courses on Latino Studies, race, and popular culture.

Originally published on March 2, 2017 in the IndyStar.