Jasmine Aquino: The UC needs to officially declare as sanctuary campuses
April 4, 2017 11:55 p.m.
The University of California has repeatedly described itself as a “sanctuary campus” that protects the rights of undocumented students, but it’s missing an important step: actually making that description an official designation.
While the undocumented immigrant population in the United States, especially in the Latino community, is having a crisis-level standoff with the federal government, the UC campuses are offering students and their immediate family members different resources to navigate their foggy futures.
This is good – these undocumented people desperately need all the support they can get in the face of unprecedented anti-immigrant sentiments. This is an issue of basic morality: They worked just as hard as everyone else to earn their spot in the UC, and they deserve the university’s protection and support as they attempt to get an education.
But the services offered to UC students vary in depth and type depending on the campus, which can make the system difficult to navigate and access – especially for those unfamiliar with it. Thus, the UC must officially declare all their campuses as sanctuary campuses and create a unified model of resources to truly aid their undocumented students and their families.
Labeling UCs as sanctuary campuses would be an easy step that carries substantial weight.
The UC has taken several steps so far to support its undocumented students. In Janurary, UC President Janet Napolitano and each of the campus chancellors released a joint statement following the president’s infamous immigration ban, to voice their opposition to the order and state that the ban contradicts their value of welcoming students and scholars “of all backgrounds and nationalities.”
Even earlier in the academic school year, several campuses began hosting “Know Your Rights” events specific to immigration law, catering to the more than 700 undocumented students in the UC.
Each campus also offers different levels of immigration law representation for both proactive and reactive measures. These include helping students apply or renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, petition for citizenship with the help of the student’s family member and offer defense in court. Some campuses, like UC San Diego and UC Berkeley, have even extended these services to the family members of students affected.
The UC system has already placed itself in opposition to the presidential administration by publicly announcing it would protect its undocumented students, as well as their families. Beyond protecting this community, the UC plans to progress with the UC-Mexico Initiative launched in 2014, which provides funding for collaborative research with the country, even going as far as including sources of funding from the Mexican government.
Given all these steps the University has taken, it’s not a stretch to say that the UC system is composed of sanctuary campuses. But this is only clear to the students on campus using these resources. Labeling the UC system as a sanctuary space would not only promote a more inclusive environment, but would prompt other leaders and institutions to claim solidarity, which could lead to more cohesive and effective action to help the state’s most vulnerable members.
After all, the combined efforts of the University, the state government, local governments and various nonprofits could stand to provide much greater protection for undocumented students – but they need an official designation to rally behind. Otherwise, there’s diminished attention toward the issue outside the UC sphere, and therefore less incentive to act.
The label would also provide a clear opportunity to create a cohesive plan for these resources. While all campuses offer legal services, students may have a difficult time accessing those only offered at specific campuses.
For instance, both UC Santa Cruz and UCLA provide volunteers who help undocumented students and their families complete the N-400 Application for Naturalization. UC Santa Cruz offers this service through personnel at El Centro, its Chicano Latino Resource Center, and UCLA partners with the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service.
This is a service undocumented students could really use. The form is a 20-page document filled with complex legal language that becomes difficult to understand, said Liz Kurt, one of the volunteers with IRIS. “This is a legal service that runs upwards of $1,000 that we are offering for free to communities that may otherwise not have,” Kurt said.
But it needs to be accessible to students at the other campuses as well – a singular sanctuary campus designation can help the UC lay the groundwork to make these types of services available systemwide.
People opposing the designation say that UC money is misdirected and prioritizes undocumented students over other students. But the fact is these services are already being offered at some level at offices that have existed for students for decades – those for international students. They need many similar services, so the infrastructure is already there. Creating a cohesive plan would require little to no additional cost, especially considering many of the attorneys offering their help are already doing so pro bono.
What a cohesive plan would do, however, is make that infrastructure much more effectively organized and accessible to students who may not necessarily be able to navigate a vast bureaucratic system.
What the UC is looking at, then, is a change that’s relatively easy to implement – almost nominal even. What wouldn’t be nominal, however, is the impact – not only would designating the UC as a sanctuary campus bring extra political support for undocumented students, but it would allow the University to better organize its own efforts. And that would help the University fulfill its basic mission and obligation to ensure that every one of its students gets a fair shot at a top-notch education.