Donald Trump vowed during his campaign to deport millions of illegal immigrants from the country. For many US universities, particularly those with significant numbers of undocumented students studying under the protection of a 2012 policy instituted by the Obama administration, this is unacceptable.
Students, alumni, and faculty members across the US have spent the weeks since Trump’s Nov. 8 election lobbying university administrators to designate their schools “sanctuary campuses,” or spaces where students of iffy legal status can study without facing the threat of deportation. Columbia, Yale, and Oberlin are among the still-growing list of schools where such petitions have been circulated. (While some universities like Wesleyan have outright declared themselves “sanctuaries,” others like Princeton have declined to take on the official title while still pledging their support to undocumented students.)
Harvard has now joined those taking a stand. University president Drew Faust sent an email to the school’s affiliates this week to expressly “reaffirm our clear and unequivocal support for these individuals.”
Without using the exact word “sanctuary,” Faust—who signed a letter along with more than 300 other college presidents last week in support of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) 2012 program—promised that the school would not disclose the immigration status of individuals or allow them to be deported without due legal process. She added that the administration recognizes “the deep anxiety that campaign rhetoric and proposals have created for many members of the Harvard community.”
Faust’s skirting of the term “sanctuary campus” is also partly because it’s somewhat meaningless. If the Trump administration does roll out aggressive deportation policies and they are ruled to be legal, schools—like any other American organization—will have to comply. That’s why school leaders are directly asking Trump to not repeal DACA; California’s three biggest university systems just today (Nov. 29) sent a letter imploring him to allow undocumented students “to continue to pursue the American dream.”
And, purely symbolic as they may be, university pledges to protect illegal immigrants under Trump hint at a broader tension already simmering between the US president-elect and the country’s institutions of higher education.