University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst stopped short of declaring UConn a sanctuary campus Tuesday in a university wide email to students.
She said designating its campuses as “sanctuaries” for undocumented students may be “misleading to the very students we are seeking to support.”
Following Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States several universities, including Wesleyan University in Middletown, have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented students.
“There have been calls for universities to designate themselves as ‘sanctuary’ campuses or cities,” Herbst wrote. “Though the term has been defined and interpreted in many different ways, as a state agency, UConn does not have the authority to unilaterally apply this designation to itself. The university must adhere to state and federal law.”
However, Herbst said that UConn and its police force is “doing those things which are the essential elements of the sanctuary policies that have been adopted in several large U.S. cities.”
Essentially under the policy, university police will not ask about individuals’ immigration status, will not detain anyone based solely on immigration status, will not make arrests based on warrants issued by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will not disclose department records containing information on a person’s immigration status unless compelled to by law, according to Herbst’s email.
In this regard, the policy of the UConn Police is similar to that of the New Haven Police Department, which operates in a sanctuary city, Herbst said in the email. Additionally, UConn does not collect information on undocumented students’ immigration status and will rely on the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act to deny requests for information that may identify undocumented students without a warrant, subpoena or court order.
“Although we don’t have the legal ability to designate ourselves with the formal term, UConn is already essentially functioning as a sanctuary campus,” Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman, said.
On the campaign trail Trump said he intends to repeal or allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants to attend universities if they entered the U.S. before a certain age, to expire, according to his 100 Day Plan.
There are about 100 undocumented students on UConn’s Storrs campus, said Undergraduate Student Government student body president Dan Byrd. The Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution calling for UConn to become a sanctuary campus on Nov. 17.
“I am glad to see that the UConn administration is taking steps to work with students on protecting our Undocumented Peers from the new threats they face come January 20th,” Byrd said in a statement.
Eric Cruz Lopez, a UConn student and local organizer for Connecticut Students for a Dream, said that while Herbst’s email was a positive step, the university still needs to release an official action plan for how it would handle the deportation of an undocumented student.
According to Herbst’s email, if a UConn student were subject to removal from the U.S., the university would assist them in transferring to a foreign institution, completing their degree through distance learning or expediting their readmission to UConn should they return to the country.
“We want this to be more than an email, it needs to be turned into a legal document or mandate of the University of Connecticut,” Lopez said. “We don’t just want people to say they will do everything possible, we want the university to have concrete steps for what they will do if someone is deported.”
UConn’s Chief Diversity Officer, Joelle Murchison, agreed to release a deportation action plan by Dec. 1 at “Rally for the People” on Nov. 9 when 500 students marched through the Storrs campus demanding that the university take action to protect marginalized populations on campus from Trump’s proposed policies. This would include an explanation of how UConn would handle the students’ credits, financial aid and tuition/room and board if they were deported mid-semester, Lopez said.
Reitz said she does not have any information on when such a plan might be released.
Lopez said student leaders will continue to put pressure on the UConn administrators to protect marginalized communities and stand up to discriminatory laws.
“This is not the end of it all, we want to make sure that our push toward making UConn a safe campus extends to all other marginalized communities on campus,” Lopez said.