Colleges Pledge Support for Undocumented Immigrant Students

logoBy Melissa Korn and Alejandro Lazo, WSJ

Move comes in response to fears President-elect Trump may push for larger-scale deportations

Hundreds of college leaders nationwide are pledging support for undocumented immigrants enrolled on their campuses, in response to fears that President-elect Donald Trump may push for larger-scale deportations.

The schools join more than a half dozen large cities which have also promised to shield illegal immigrants from federal authorities.

Mr. Trump has made the deportation of illegal immigrants central to his platform, and said he would block federal funding from “sanctuary cities.”

It is unclear how a school would become a haven for undocumented students, and whether any would be willing to risk their federal student-aid funding, or other government financial support, in the process. A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut declared itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented students; Columbia University promised to extend financial aid to such students who may be affected by employment restrictions. The University of California system has created a working group to assess the potential impact of changes to immigration law.

In recent days the presidents of more than 250 schools—including Ivy League institutions and state flagships, as well as small religious colleges—signed a letter expressing support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows young adults who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country for school or work.

Calling the continuation and expansion of DACA a “moral imperative and a national necessity,” the letter states that students enrolled under the program “represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to our future.”

David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College near Los Angeles, began soliciting signatures for the letter after the presidential election.

Donald Trump has said he would “immediately terminate” President Obama’s executive actions, which includes DACA. Mr. Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), is an opponent of DACA which the Obama administration introduced through executive action in 2012.

Young adults currently enrolled in DACA, often known as “Dreamers,” widely fear deportation under Mr. Trump.

About 4% of Pomona’s student body is undocumented or enrolled through DACA, according to Mr. Oxtoby. He said the school wants to support those students “in every way we can,” including by connecting them with immigration experts in the alumni community to discuss their cases.

“We are signaling that we wouldn’t collaborate with what would have to be extrajudicial deportation campaigns,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth.

Columbia’s provost promised the school wouldn’t share undocumented students’ information with immigration officials without a court order or subpoena, and would prevent officials from entering campus without a warrant.

The University of California system has convened a task force to develop a strategy “on how best to protect our undocumented students,” according to spokesman Ricardo Vazquez. He said the system estimates it has a few thousand undocumented students.

UC System President Janet Napolitano, who served as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, is scheduled to meet with undocumented-student coordinators later this month.

Students at Tufts University, Stanford University and elsewhere have staged demonstrations and signed petitions urging their administrators to identify their schools as sanctuaries.

Tufts President Anthony Monaco said the school is “exploring what it would mean to declare Tufts a ‘sanctuary campus.’”

“We will continue to assess what is best for all of our students and the university in the face of potential upcoming changes in law and policy,” he said.

Pomona’s Mr. Oxtoby said he intentionally avoided using the word “sanctuary” himself.

“We don’t want to try to promise something that we can’t guarantee,” he said. “Most colleges and universities, Pomona included, would respond to court orders. It’s a hypothetical. We’re hoping it would not reach that point.”

His letter urging the federal government to maintain DACA will remain open to new signatures for at least a few more days, and school leaders are now considering how best to share the statement with Mr. Trump’s incoming administration, he said.

Wesleyan’s Mr. Roth said that by “sanctuary,” he means “a lack of cooperation until compelled to cooperate by law, and then you use the courts. We’ll do our best to protect our students.”

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