Viewpoint: Supporting a sanctuary campus

Sunday, November 1, 2015 - 8:25pm

For the University to be the diverse, inclusive, representative and great campus it claims to be, it must stand with immigrant communities by opening access to education for immigrant students, defending sanctuary cities and declaring itself a sanctuary campus. The state of Michigan is a historic place of refuge for immigrants from all over the world, including the world’s second-largest Arab and Muslim population outside of the Middle East (after Paris) and a growing Latino community. Refugee children from Central America and more recently from war-torn countries like Syria are already residing in cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Dearborn with more on their way.

Immigration is the question of the day everywhere in the world. The globalized economy, free trade measures, global warming and the foreign policies of stronger powers exploiting poorer nations: these factors have combined to create one of the most massive relocations of humanity across national borders in all of world history. The United Nations reported in June that currently, one in every 122 people are refugees displaced by war, violence and persecution, the highest number of refugees since World War II.

In 2015, 700,000 immigrants are estimated to have arrived in Europe by sea, and 3,138 refugees are reported to have died this year in the Mediterranean. Last year, at least 68,541 unaccompanied children crossed the southern border into the United States from various Central American countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras — seeking to escape the gang violence, death squads and poverty. This worldwide mass migration is ongoing, and is profoundly transforming many nations.

Yet as we become a majority-minority nation, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. However, there has been a corresponding struggle and polarization over immigrant rights. Under some of the most vicious attacks against immigrants in the United States, including a record high of more than two million deportations, the immigrant rights movement led by undocumented youth with actions in the streets, college campuses, detention centers and Congress chambers has won important victories. These include in-state tuition in more than 16 states, state-sponsored financial aid like the California Dream Act, work permits for some undocumented youth with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and a work permit for immigrant parents with Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which has been stalled by a right-wing legal challenge. The immigrant rights movement increases in strength with each victory, over and against each attack.

The student movement at the University has won recently important victories for immigrant students — in-state tuition and a small scholarship pilot program that allotted $450,000 for undocumented undergraduate students for the 2014-2015 year. But the conditions for undocumented immigrant and international students are still far from equal. The University must increase the number of undocumented students.

The University of California, Berkeley has taken important steps to open access and support for undocumented students by creating an undocumented student center to provide financial aid, free legal aid and cover the legal filing fees to apply for DACA. Since the creation of the program, the numbers of undocumented students at UC Berkeley has doubled. The University should follow Berkeley’s example. The scholarship for undocumented students must be increased, expanded to include graduate students, and publicized to prospective students. Overall, the University must guarantee the continuation of the program.

Both educational access and the safety of immigrant students must be a priority for the University. This means the University must publicly declare itself a sanctuary campus for immigrants. Currently, Ann Arbor and Detroit are sanctuary cities, meaning that local authorities aren’t supposed to turn over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A recent proposal in the Michigan Legislature is threatening these sanctuary cities, forcing city officials to publicly defend the importance of these sanctuaries against a dangerous precedent of open anti-immigrant bigotry from government officials, institutions and racists, most clearly expressed in the xenophobic rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. The scapegoating of immigrants in Europe and the United States for the economic and environmental crisis on the part of politicians and national leaders is already creating a dangerous situation similar to that of the 1930s, which led to World War II and the Holocaust.

These recent attacks necessitate the leadership of public figures and institutions like the University to defend the rights of immigrants in this country and prevent the anti-immigrant bigotry on campus from becoming a real physical threat to immigrant students and community members.

Central Student Government will be considering a resolution to support making the University a sanctuary campus this Tuesday. We encourage immigrant rights supporters to join us in support of the resolution.

Jose Alvarenga is an organizer with By Any Means Necessary. Lamin Manneh is a Rackham student and a Rackham representative on CSG.