The symbolic solidarity of declaring Oberlin College a sanctuary campus for undocumented students is reason enough for President Marvin Krislov and his administration to take action, but the actual impact that creating such a policy could have is invaluable. Amid a growing national movement for colleges to become sanctuaries in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination last week, it is critical that Oberlin take the necessary steps to protect its undocumented students.
There are three crucial questions that naturally follow requests to declare Oberlin’s campus a sanctuary: What does it mean to be a sanctuary for undocumented people? What kinds of policies can be enacted? And what are the effects of becoming a sanctuary campus on both the College and city?
When addressing the first question, it is important to understand that there is no legal definition of a sanctuary, be it a city or college campus. No single set of policies is employed when local governments claim sanctuary status, but they do express a commitment to protecting undocumented people from the often draconian U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement laws. In doing so, cities and municipalities make the decision to actively combat federal deportation regulations. If the College were to become a sanctuary campus, the administration would make a similar commitment.
Despite the lack of universal standards for sanctuary cities, there are shared policies that have the capacity to be enacted at an Oberlin level. Sanctuaries often have policies that restrict local law enforcement’s mandate to assist with federal immigration procedures. For example, if Oberlin became a sanctuary campus, the administration could refuse to release the details of the immigration status of any student, faculty or staff member. Other petitions call for local security — in our case, Safety and Security — to avoid assisting federal officials with raids. The College could also reaffirm its commitment to providing financial support through its undocumented students fund. These concrete actions are vital under a looming Trump administration, as he has already vowed to deport three million people in his first 100 days in office.
In addition to these policies, Oberlin College is best situated to assist undocumented students and community members by providing monetary assistance and education as a path to citizenship. The Multicultural Resource Fund has an extensive list of goals for undocumented inclusion that include ally trainings, resource pamphlets, a mentor/advising program and continued efforts to fund the Undocumented Student Scholarship Program.
Enacting a sanctuary policy would only strengthen the region’s commitment to protecting undocumented students. The city of Oberlin has been considered a sanctuary since 2009 and the city of Lorain since 2013. But the reason so many have pushed for campuses across the country to become sanctuaries is that Trump has already expressed intentions to punish cities for not abiding by immigration laws by withdrawing federal funding. In Oberlin, the withdrawal of federal funding would have adverse affects on local communities. For example, many of the public schools receive federal funds for free and reduced-price lunch programs. Should the city be cornered into retracting its sanctuary status, there would be all the more reason to make campus itself a sanctuary.
In the coming days, we urge the College’s administration to consider the power and profundity in declaring our campus a sanctuary. If Oberlin is as steadfast to upholding its mission of diversity and inclusion as it advertises on admissions pamphlets, administrators will use this opportunity to stand with its undocumented and most vulnerable students in Trump’s America.