Over 50 faculty, students and city residents attended a teach-in Wednesday night at Hatcher Graduate Library to discuss issues pertaining to the creation of a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants, as well as local initiatives planned for the future.
A sanctuary campus is defined as any college or university that adopts policies to protect undocumented students from deportation. More than 1,000 University of Michigan students took part in a walkout protest on Nov. 16, where they called for the University to become a sanctuary campus, as well as for administrators to better represent minority students.
The event was the first in a series of teach-ins sponsored by the University’s Department of History, Department of American Culture and the LSA Democracy in Action Fund. Event organizers created the teach-in as a space where a diverse group of six experts, including both students and local activists, could come together and share their knowledge about sanctuary campuses while also answering questions from the community.
Many students in attendance said they were proponents of making the University a sanctuary campus. LSA senior Jerry Graham said he thinks the change is an important one, adding it would benefit some of his friends and professors.
“This is something that I’d like to see for this campus,” Graham said. “I’ve spoken with a professor and friends that could really benefit from something like this, and that know people that could benefit from something like this. So I think it’s very important.”
The difficulty of working with both campus and city police in ensuring that the forces do not inadvertently inform U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of undocumented students on campus was frequently discussed by speakers. Christine Sauvé, member of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, offered strategies to build a trusting relationship with the police.
“We have found, in Michigan, a lot of local police end up calling ICE or border patrol for their translation services,” Sauvé said. “So if your local police does not have something as simple as Language Link, which is very imperfect, even if they don’t have something like that, it could be something that pushes people to involve ICE and border patrol. Investing in language access is very critical for local communities. Community policing strategies and building that trust relationship with police is going to be critical.”
Another common theme evident throughout the teach-in was taking the meaning of the word “sanctuary” and making it a practical and operational concept to apply to the campus. Rackham student Vikrant Garg, a member of campus organization Students4Justice, said the University must make quantifiable policy changes, rather than merely applying the concept.
“For us, I think, as a campus, what we need to think about is how we’re going to operationalize what it means to advocate for a sanctuary campus,” Garg said. “It means tuition affordability, it means decreases in the cost of living … it means to actually take what sanctuary means, and turn it into an actual, operational definition.”
In a December interview, University president Mark Schlissel explained his hestitation to employ the term “sanctuary campus” due to its possible ambiguity.
“There’s some confusion about what that term means,” he said. “It’s a label that has no specific fixed definition and I don’t want to put a label on us that other people can define that may not be accurate.”
Schlissel penned a statement in support of undocumented students in late November, while many University departments made resources available to members of the campus community in fear following the election of president-elect Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly deemed executive orders signed by President Barack Obama protecting undocumented adults and children unconstitutional.
“We already do many of the things that come under definitions of ‘sancturary,'” Schlissel said. “We offer resources but don’t keep lists…it maintains everyone’s privacy and safety.”