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March 6, 2018 > Sanctuary campuses: a lesson in democracy

Sanctuary campuses: a lesson in democracy

By David R. Newman

On December 5, 2017, the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District (CLPCCD) became the latest college campus district to officially adopt sanctuary status. In the wake of widespread fear and anxiety caused by President TrumpÕs new immigration policies, over 300 cities, counties, and college campuses nationwide have now declared themselves sanctuaries, offering protection to their students and families against Federal officers who would seek to detain and deport them.

While many felt the Chabot-Las Positas process took too long (one year), it is a prime example of democracy in action. A government of the people, by the people, for the people Ð this is the principle of shared governance that most universities fall under, with three main bodies getting equal representation: students, faculty, and administration. At the top of each college sits a president, with a chancellor presiding over both. A board of seven trustees looks over the entire district.

With so many people involved, itÕs a wonder anything ever gets done. But somehow, it does. When the Faculty Senate at Chabot created a Sanctuary Resolution and brought it before the Student Senate in spring 2017, the students ran with it. Says Juztino Panella, a counselor at Chabot, ÒThey took it very seriously. Initially, as more and more students began coming to the meetings, it was very confrontational, but it turned into this beautiful process, with the senators amplifying the voices of the students.Ó

The passion of the students was clear, some of whom are ÒdreamersÓ in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or know someone who is. Says Chabot President Dr. Susan Sperling, ÒChabot faculty and students are in an environment in which the struggles of immigrant families and students are very familiar because we serve a largely immigrant community.Ó In fact, both Chabot (Hayward) and Las Positas (Livermore) are Hispanic Serving Institutions, with over 25 percent of the population comprised of Hispanic students, which qualifies them for federal funding.

Once the Student and Faculty Senates hashed out the details of the resolution, it was signed off by the Classified Senate, then presented to the president, who in turn presented it to the chancellor, who then submitted it to the board. Says Dr. Hal Gin, President of the Board at the time, ÒOne of our great concerns was whether we would lose our federal funding if we called ourselves a Ôsanctuary campus.Õ So many of our students receive financial aid. ThereÕs so much uncertainty right now in Washington, D.C. It was unchartered territory for all of us.Ó

Universities throughout the country are debating how to best protect and support students while still abiding by state and federal laws. Some are refusing to release immigration status information to the federal government and not allowing local law enforcement to engage in deportation activities. Under the Fourth Amendment, schools can also protect the personal records of students, staff, and workers. Both the CSU and UC systems have published detailed principles of support for their students, stopping short of using the term Òsanctuary.Ó At Chabot and Las Positas, task forces have been established to provide information and assistance to undocumented students.

Says Gin, ÒWe were originally thinking a good way to approach this would be to call ourselves a Ôsafe haven,Õ because it would not trigger the same feeling with the federal government as calling ourselves a Ôsanctuary college.ÕÓ But students were intent on including the word ÒsanctuaryÓ in their resolution. Says Panella, ÒThe students felt it was important to have a positive symbol to rally behind, especially in this time of bigotry and hatred.Ó

Because the board makes district-wide decisions, they needed to wait to hear from Las Positas before voting on a resolution. Says Chancellor Jannett Jackson, ÒI didnÕt want to set a precedent where we did one thing for one campus and the other campus was left out. So I encouraged them to meet with the Las Positas senates so we could come back with a joint proposal.Ó

Says Interim President of Las Positas Roanna Bennie, ÒThere were different timelines and a different focus between the two campuses. In the spring, our campus was focused on the practical part. It wasnÕt until the fall that we began to take up the sanctuary conversation. And our students also began to look at the idea of inclusiveness Ð that our campus should be a sanctuary for everyone.Ó Once Las Positas was on board, the joint resolution was put on the agenda.

In September 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which establishes clear divisions between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities in an attempt to ensure local officers do not become part of deportation efforts under the Trump administration. And although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hasnÕt spoken out about the legality of sanctuary campuses, enforcement actions (arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance) generally do not occur at sensitive locations, which include hospitals, churches, and schools. Says Gin, ÒStudents should know that theyÕre safe when theyÕre at our college. WeÕre not going to allow ICE or anyone else to come in and arrest them.Ó

While everyone grapples with the legalities, one thing is clear Ð the democratic process is alive and well at Chabot-Las Positas. Says Sperling, ÒIÕve rarely seen this kind of passion and solidarity around an issue before.Ó Panella concurs, ÒDemocracy is something that you have to continue to work for, whether itÕs through organizing, direct action, or protest.Ó Jackson herself is no stranger to civil rights, being an African-American female who grew up in the Ô60s. ÒDemocracy is painful sometimes.Ó And most would agree Ð they wouldnÕt have it any other way.

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