Students petition for Whitworth to be sanctuary campus with protective laws

by Josiah Van Wingerden | Staff Writer

President Beck Taylor poses with students who entered his office with a petition proposing that Whitworth become a sanctuary campus. Photograph courtesy of Beck Taylor.

President Trump and his administration pledged to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, which has thousands of college students concerned with the uncertainty of their futures.  As a result, hundreds of Whitworth students petitioned for the university to become a sanctuary campus.

In response to the attitudes perpetuated toward undocumented students by the Trump administration, thousands of college students have already begun protesting at nearly 100 universities nationwide; specifically those students who are either undocumented or protected under the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals enacted by President Obama in 2012.

DACA allows those who are enrolled are currently in school, children who entered the United States before reaching their 16th birthday, or those were under the age of 31 before 2012 to stay for a two-year period. After two years, the provision would be subject to renewal.

There are now 28 universities across the United States that have adopted the term “sanctuary campus.”

Although it is not a legal term, a sanctuary campus is commonly understood as university that is committed to protecting its undocumented students. Some policies include staff members not voluntarily revealing the immigration status of its student body unless otherwise compelled to by law, among others.

“By not cooperating that means not giving [immigration enforcement agencies] information on the immigration status of their students and not allowing them on campus without a warrant, subpoena or court order,” junior Kamau Chege said. “And not allowing campus security, campus staff, or any of the things that are tuition dollars go towards or be used for immigration enforcement.”

Chege is an undocumented student who was originally born in Kenya and was also one of the students who presented a petition to President Beck Taylor, urging him to declare Whitworth a sanctuary campus. Chege is also the president of the Spokane Dream Project, a club that advocateson behalf of undocumented youth in the Spokane School District.

However, Taylor has chosen not to label Whitworth as a “sanctuary campus” for fear of the term being misinterpreted by others because of its vague nature. He was also concerned that the term may send an inappropriate message leading to harmful assumptions.

“I would rather use very specific language about what we are doing and can do for our undocumented students,” Taylor said.

Taylor issued a statement after receiving the petition from students that outlined the many resources the university can provide its undocumented students. For example, the administration is looking into waiving the graduation requirement of studying abroad for undocumented students in some majors, such as political science or international relations.

Taylor has already informed local law enforcement and immigration officers that the university will not voluntarily release any information revealing the immigration status of students. He has also pledged to support students who are undocumented or students here under the provision of DACA.

He promised to do everything within the power of the university to ensure that undocumented enrolled cancontinue their education safely without fear of deportation.

“In every way, this is a personal issue for us here at Whitworth,” Taylor said. “These are students that we know, that we love and that contribute greatly to our community.”

Faculty members are looking for employment opportunities for undocumented students, regardless of immigration status.

“If the work [to protect undocumented students] is going to be done without the term [sanctuary campus] then so be it, because in the end, it benefits and impacts the students,” freshman Cat Corvalan said.

Corvalan is a student under the provisions of DACA and says that regardless of a person’s political, theological or philosophical leanings, it is important to view this issue as a human concern.

Taylor has publicly expressed his support for the extension of DACA beyond just two years. He also advocated for the BRIDGE Act; a bipartisan, legislative solution that would allow undocumented students to apply for work permits and have their presence in the United States protected for three years.

In addition, Taylor and administration are working with state and federal officials to enact legislation that would benefit the entire community of undocumented students at Whitworth.

Students who would like to support those who are undocumented, the Spokane Dream Project meets every Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Intercultural Student Center.

“I hope and pray that we are the kind of campus that exudes the love of Christ to all people at all times, regardless of circumstance,” Taylor said. “And that as a community, we are equipped and empowered to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that needs those things greatly.”

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