Students, community urge Jenkins to declare ND ‘sanctuary campus’
Emily McConville | Thursday, November 17, 2016
At 1:35 p.m. Wednesday, senior Jessica Pedroza and sophomore Gargi Purohit stood up in South Dining Hall and announced they were walking out in solidarity with Notre Dame’s and the country’s undocumented students.
“As Notre Dame students, we appreciate the solidarity and support that our President and administration have shown towards our DACA community, and we call on our President to publicly acknowledge Notre Dame’s status as a Sanctuary Campus,” they read from a statement. “We call on universities everywhere to follow Notre Dame’s example.”
A small group then left the dining hall and joined the hundreds of students, faculty and staff streaming towards God Quad. A Facebook event, SanctuaryCampusND, had encouraged them to read the same statement wherever they were and then go to the Golden Dome. Once there, they sat down, holding signs, filling the brick path in front of Main Building.
Undocumented college students, including those at Notre Dame, face an uncertain future. Many benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order by President Barack Obama that protects some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation proceedings, making it easier for them to work and go to school. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to rescind DACA.
The goal of the demonstration was to convince the University to declare itself a “sanctuary campus,” taking specific actions to protect undocumented students, such as not volunteering information to immigration authorities or allowing them on campus, not using e-verify and not using discriminatory housing policies.
“The goals are to show Notre Dame students and everywhere around the world that we support undocumented students and are in solidarity with the sanctuary campus movement,” Pedroza, who helped organize the demonstration and led the walkout from South Dining Hall, said. “We want to make sure Notre Dame is inclusive and welcoming and free of hostility against specifically our undocumented students.”
Purohit, another of the demonstration’s organizers, said planning began over the weekend, when the sanctuary campus movement started to gain momentum nationwide. Purohit said the original goal of the event was to encourage University President Fr. John Jenkins to reaffirm the University’s support for undocumented students. Then, at a prayer service Monday, he did, telling them that “we will do everything we can to ensure that you complete your education.”
Purohit, herself an undocumented student, said she appreciated the support and outreach she’s received from faculty, administrators and classmates. But she’s also experienced in-person and online harassment, and she fears for herself and her family.
“We want more of an official public statement, for Notre Dame to do more,” she said. “If you’re going to say you’re going to help undocumented students like me, you have to say it very publicly, not just at an interfaith prayer service.”
The demonstration was one of the many that took place at universities around the country Wednesday — and one of several efforts specifically at Notre Dame to express support for undocumented students. The demonstration organizers also belong to We Stand For, a group created after the election to promote “human dignity and respect,” according to its Facebook page. We Stand For also created a GoFundMe to undocumented students’ legal fees.
Separately, on Tuesday, a petition with similar requests, created by another group of faculty and students, circulated on social media. Jason Ruiz, an associate professor of American studies who spearheaded the effort, said
“We were relieved, of course, to hear [Jenkins] refer specifically to the undocumented community here on campus, so we incorporated his own words into the petition as a reminder that, you actually agree with us,” he said. “For me, the petition was inspired by other schools, but it was made very specific to Notre Dame.
The petition exploded, garnering more than 4,300 signatures in 25 hours. Its creators gave it to the demonstration leaders, who went into Main Building during Wednesday’s event amid applause to deliver it to Jenkins.
University vice president of communications and public affairs Paul Browne, who was at the demonstration, said the University already does some what the demonstrators requested: Notre Dame does not volunteer information to immigration authorities or allow federal agencies on campus unless they were conducting investigations unrelated to immigration status. He said the University was also looking into what legal help it could provide to students.
“As Fr. John said, we invited undocumented students to attend Notre Dame,” he said. “We have to protect them.”
But he stopped short of using the term “sanctuary campus” — he said the term had too many connotations for the University to adopt.
“Some people say blanket sanctuary — even, for example, that no federal agency ever be allowed on campus,” he said. “Some people would think that’s reasonable. If it involved a criminal investigation, that wouldn’t be reasonable. We’re not going to have the jargon of a protest movement but rather watch what we do, and, in concrete terms, we’re protecting our students.”
The demonstration lasted until 2:30, when the leaders returned from Jenkins’ office, and the crowd sang the Alma Mater. Senior Maria Caponigro, another demonstration organizer, said she was pleased with the variety of people who attended.
“You saw professors and students not just from the progressive side of campus, you saw people who just care about human dignity and want to stress that this is not a political act, this is a showing of our faith and our support of our classmates,” she said.
Ruiz said going forward, the University community needs to be united.
“I think the administration is going to face some very tough choices under the new federal government, and they need our support,” he said. “They need the support of people who care about the issue of undocumented communities, and they need to know that several thousand people are willing to sign on to say, keep your policies in place.”
Using the “sanctuary campus terminology,” he said, can be important.
“On a practical level, we’re already a sanctuary campus,” he said. “Declaring ourselves a sanctuary campus will put us in conversation and coalition with the dozens, hundreds of other universities in the U.S. that are making similar decisions.”