How Colleges Are Helping Undocumented Students

The national conversation centered on undocumented immigrants is not limited to the Capitol. Higher education plays a major role in the lives of undocumented students, and some colleges are making it a point to help those students find their way.

Colleges like Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Utah, San Diego State, and Western Washington University have quietly created resources and have provided sanctuary to students who are enrolled on their campuses but who don’t have papers.

The Rise of Sanctuary Campuses

As the political climate surrounding immigration and undocumented students has turned increasingly negative, with the suspension of programs like DACA, colleges have reacted, in part pushed by their student bodies.

The result has produced a culture of sanctuary campuses, which are similar in nature to sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary campuses are those that provide resources for undocumented students and the unique challenges they face from not receiving access to federal aid to immigration concerns. Some schools have also pledged not to coordinate with ICE or other immigration officials by keeping information private unless there is a warrant. Others have provided scholarships directed at this unique group of students.

However, unlike sanctuary cities, there is no legislation dealing with the issue of sanctuary campuses, and it is unclear whether the actions taken by these colleges and universities are legal.

Sanctuary Campuses Across America

Sanctuary campuses aren’t only those on coasts or the border. They include a wide range of universities across the country including:

Columbia University, New York University, Portland State University, University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, California Community Colleges, California State University, Florida International University, Princeton University, Syracuse University, Texas State University, University of California, University of Illinois, and the University of Miami.

The Future of Sanctuary Campuses

Many undocumented students enrolled at colleges are current members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the current administration recently announced it would end.

The DACA program provided colleges and universities comfort in providing resources, including aid, to students because it removed much of the risk, particularly for students who participated in the program.

The end of this program would create further legal questions for universities that have pledged to serve as sanctuary campuses as students who are undocumented and once protected begin to lose that protection on a rolling basis.

The question of sanctuary campuses will continue to remain unclear as immigration policy evolves. But one thing is clear: colleges and universities have inserted themselves into the debate – and they side with students.


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