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A Push for Sanctuary

SNC proposes new draft sanctuary campus petition for undocumented immigrants

Meghan Herbst, Online Editor

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A nationwide initiative to establish sanctuary zones for undocumented immigrants is gaining support at Sierra Nevada College. A draft sanctuary campus petition was proposed by Humanities Instructor Jared Stanley and distributed at a faculty council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

“This is a campus that teaches people from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Having people of a wide array of experience enriches the education of everyone involved,” said Stanley.

The petition is similar to those proposed at the University of Nevada, Reno, and other colleges, universities and cities nationwide.

A sanctuary campus adopts policies that seek to protect undocumented immigrants in a university or college environment. The rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign, which included statements like “we will find them, we will get them out,” in reference to undocumented immigrants in the United States, inspired the push to declare certain areas “sanctuary” zones.

Policies that could be adopted to protect students with immigration status issues might include preventing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from coming onto campus, prohibiting faculty or staff from questioning a student about their status and denouncing hate speech and crimes on campus.

“There is a group of faculty who are working on making sure that faculty and staff know where to point students who may need legal aid or other services related to their status,” said Stanley.

Stanley’s petition at SNC will need to undergo revision and approval processes before implementation, procedures that could take weeks or months. Stanley emphasized that no decisions have been made to date.

“This is a petition presented to the faculty council, not a unanimous decision by the faculty,” said Stanley.

At Princeton University, a similar petition was rejected by the university president and described as “legally unfounded.” Conservative criminal justice blog “Fault Lines” called sanctuary initiatives “legal bupkis.” Critics doubt that campuses can take substantial action to defend students against federal law enforcement agents.

In an August 2016 campaign speech, Trump vowed to withhold taxpayer dollars from cities that declare themselves sanctuaries. He similarly promised to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established in 2012, which protects immigrants from deportation if they arrive undocumented in the United States as children.

Stanley is critical of a strictly legal argument against sanctuary status.

“We’ve been living under the regime of DACA for the last couple years in which student status has not been a major factor and students have been offered education under that regime,” he said. “To all of a sudden marginalize or criminalize students who attended school under a different set of rules, it just seems to me that it’s disruptive for no reason. I think a legalistic argument doesn’t really recognize the moral imperative of education and the basic dignity of all human people.”

Even international students who are studying legally in the United States sometimes face VISA difficulties, as SNC Freshman Juan Aziz experienced this November. Aziz visited family in Cancun, Mexico, over Thanksgiving break, and attempted to return to school on Saturday, Nov. 26. He had a layover in Denver, Colorado, but when he presented his paperwork to a customs official at Denver International Airport, he was promptly directed to another room for questioning.

Aziz says that officials told him his student visa had expired on Oct. 1, 2016, a development that he had no knowledge of. Aziz has a 12-credit course load for the fall semester.

Aziz’s plea to call a college staff member was denied, and his phone confiscated. The customs official stamped his visa “cancelled,” and Aziz was placed in handcuffs and a belly chain while being transferred to the Aurora Detention Center nearby.

“I slept in a one-bed cell with the light on the whole time so the camera could see everything,” said Aziz. “I looked over at this board they had and there were almost 1,000 people locked up at the moment and I was registered as the youngest one there.”

He was forced to wear prison clothes and was driven directly over the tarmac to the airplane at 6 a.m. the following morning to return to Mexico. Aziz said that right before he boarded the plane, one of the officers told him that he could try to become a U.S. citizen, “but it might be a little harder now.”

Similar situations occur on a frequent basis, but typically students are allowed to reenter the country. For Aziz, a combination of errors and a heavy-handed customs official created a nightmare situation.

Every semester, international students and their college representatives must verify the students’ presence on campus. Once a student is confirmed present, their status will change from “initiated” to “active” in the school’s records. This information is forwarded on to SEVP, the government body that certifies student visas.

This semester Aziz’s record was not updated to “active.”

“Normally, what would happen is they would give him a form and tell him there is a problem with his record and that he should go to his school and fix it,” said Provost Shannon Beets.

But when Aziz reentered the country in Denver, his I-94 Form, also known as an Arrival/Departure Form used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), was missing some data. The I-94 process was made fully automated in September 2015 to promote efficiency in passenger processing. CBP claims that this resulted in 20 seconds of saved time per passenger when implemented.

For Aziz, however, this process somehow failed. The combination of a missing student record and a missing I-94 quickly escalated the situation, and Aziz was subjected to a strip search, interrogation and detention.

Aziz’s father immediately contacted SNC after the incident.

“We’ve been in almost constant phone contact with him,” said Beets. “The anomaly in [Aziz’s] situation was that the customs agent stamped his visa as cancelled, which almost never happens.”

Beets said that SNC has tried to facilitate Aziz’s return and sent a letter of support for Aziz to the Mexican consulate, declaring that he was at no fault for his current status. She said that SNC is putting a more rigorous auditing process into place to monitor international student statuses to make sure situations like this don’t occur again.

Aziz is concerned that his misfortune could happen to another international student.

“There are so many international students, from Russia, Brazil. It’s such a mess that can definitely be avoided,” he said.

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A Push for Sanctuary