In the wake of Donald J. Trump’s victory, students and faculty across the nation have signed petitions calling on their universities to protect undocumented students, who face threats of deportation under the incoming administration. President-elect Trump has promised to deport millions of immigrants and has proposed ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a law that grants undocumented students who arrived in the United States as children work permits and temporary protection from deportation. School leaders have voiced concerns that DACA-beneficiaries may be particularly vulnerable under the proposed immigration laws because of a federal database with their information. In response, a petition calling for Duke to establish itself as a “sanctuary campus” has received more than 500 signatures, and President Richard Brodhead has signed a statement joining over 350 university presidents in support of maintaining DACA.
We applaud the administration’s statement of support, but further urge the University to establish concrete measures ensuring that all students can continue to pursue an education free from insecurity and discrimination. As vulnerable members of the community experience real fears about their ability to continue their education at Duke, providing these assurances would be a meaningful demonstration of Duke’s stated commitment to protecting its students. Some of the proposed measures for a sanctuary campus include declining to release student information to immigration officials lacking a subpoena, not allowing immigration officials on campus without a warrant, providing mental health and legal support to undocumented students, and encouraging a campus culture of solidarity and awareness through the training of student allies and a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment and bullying.
By declaring itself a sanctuary campus, Duke would join peer institutions like Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania that have already declared themselves as sanctuary campuses. Beyond providing protections, Duke should also aim to reduce the additional barriers undocumented students often face in obtaining a college education, such as prohibitively costly international student tuition rates. Allowing undocumented students to qualify for domestic tuition rates would help level the playing field for students who already overcome significant challenges in gaining admission to Duke.
Establishing a sanctuary campus would be a resounding affirmation of Duke’s commitment to the safety, well-being and educational opportunity of all of its students, regardless of race, nationality or immigration status. Against a political backdrop of nativism and xenophobia, Duke must enforce the progressive values of meritocracy and inclusivity at the core of its mission. Undocumented students are valuable contributors to the academic, social and cultural life of the Duke community. They go on to contribute to the nation and the economy in higher education and successful careers across a variety of fields. Providing the necessary resources and protections to undocumented students ensures that all qualified students, regardless of background, have the opportunity to thrive. As a student community, we also have an imperative to support and advocate for fellow students who are endangered by laws that threaten our values of diversity and inclusion.
Maintaining a sanctuary campus would not be without challenges and risks. President-elect Trump has promised to deny federal funding to cities refusing to cooperate with immigration officials, and there is some uncertainty and speculation about whether the federal government would also be able to withdraw funding from sanctuary campuses. Duke should work to hedge against these potential risks. But in the short months before the start of the new administration, fulfilling its commitment to protecting students should be the University’s most urgent priority.
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