Sanctuary status would endanger our campus for all

By Brad Polumbo

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

President Donald Trump ran his campaign with one of the most radical immigration platforms in recent history. He promised not only to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, but also to create a deportation force and remove all current undocumented immigrants from our country. While he has since muddied the waters on this second proposal and suggested there may be some exceptions, this originally called for the deportation of nearly 11 million people. With such an extreme stance on immigration, President Trump’s election caused a sharp backlash from the University of Massachusetts community. Organizing under #SanctuaryCampus, UMass students broke out in protests in November. In fact, more than 600 students gathered at the Student Union in an effort to demand that UMass become a “sanctuary campus,” and not only defy but also actively resist federal immigration law. Petitions were circulated and hundreds of signed letters were delivered to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

In response, Chancellor Subbaswamy sent out an email to the entire UMass community outlining the campus administration’s stance on immigration. He reiterated the fact that as it stands right now, the University takes steps to protect undocumented students. In fact, the UMass Police Department does not gather information about student’s citizenship or status, the school does not share private information about its students unless compelled to by a court of law and they provide attorney services to students concerned about immigration issues. However, many students are unsatisfied with these steps and have pressed the University administration to take further action, declaring UMass a sanctuary campus. This pressure has resulted in a recent movement in the Student Government Association. Monday night, student senators will vote on whether to endorse a letter from the student group “Sanctuary Campus UMass” and call upon Chancellor Subbaswamy to make this official declaration. However, in the view of this writer, it would be an enormous mistake for the administration to take these steps.

On the campaign trail in September, President Trump promised to “block funding for sanctuary cities…no more funding” in a speech given in Phoenix, Arizona. Unlike many of his campaign promises, this appears to be a promise he’s intent on fulfilling. On Jan. 25, the Trump administration drafted an executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” Buried within this order, in Section 2-C, the executive policy is established that “jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds.” While the exact implications of this policy are unclear, it could spell disaster for UMass if the administration adopted such a sanctuary policy, which would fly defiantly in the face of existing federal law.

To be clear, a very small percentage of UMass students are undocumented. Of those undocumented students, presumably even fewer have the type of criminal records that would make them priorities for deportation under the recent, watered-down stance that President Trump has taken – wherein he has promised to focus on deporting criminal illegal aliens. If UMass was to take steps to defy federal law in an effort to protect such a small group of students, the potential of losing some or all federal funding could be absolutely disastrous for all members of the UMass community, regardless of their legal status. Enormous portions of our student body depend on federal Pell Grants, subsidized loans or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants for students with “exceptional” financial need. Without these federally funded programs, many students would be driven even deeper into debt and some would be unable to continue pursuing their education altogether. With state funding increasing at modest rates at best, the University cannot endanger its community’s prospects by threatening their federal funding. While the exact portion of the University’s budget (beyond financial aid programs) that is funded by the federal government is not published, it is substantial. If the University were to lose a sizeable portion of its budget, it would result in harsh realities for our campus community. Whether it would result in cuts in staff and programming or in sharp rises in tuition and fees, the loss of federal funding, in a futile effort to shield an extraordinarily small subset of the student body from enforcement of the law, would be an enormous step backwards for the University that would adversely affect us all.

Bradley Polumbo is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]