Editorial: Sanctuary campus designation is a risky symbolic gesture

Letter date: 
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Letter publisher: 
The Bulletin
Letter author: 
Bend Bulletin Editors
Letter body: 

Some colleges and universities across the nation have declared themselves “sanctuary campuses.” The meaning of that designation can differ from campus to campus, but the movement arises from concern about what the election of Donald Trump might mean for students who are in this country illegally.

In Oregon, the state’s three largest public universities — the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University — and Portland Community College have declared themselves sanctuary campuses to similar degrees.

For instance, UO has said it “will not facilitate immigration enforcement on our campus without a warrant or a clear demonstration” of exigent circumstance, the campus police will not act on behalf of federal officials enforcing immigration laws, and the university will not share the immigration status of any student without a court order.

In a way, Oregon is already a sanctuary state. State law prohibits any law enforcement agency in Oregon from taking action against someone solely because they are a foreign citizen and in violation of federal immigration law.

The largely symbolic “sanctuary campus” designation should worry Oregonians anyway, as it signals a willingness to defy federal law in the event that state law changes.

Earlier this week, Gene Pitts, the chairman of Portland Community College’s board of directors, resigned because he objected to the sanctuary designation. He said it “places risk on the backs of the 40+ percent of the college’s students that receive Pell grant monies (and ultimately on the college’s federal funding), and alienates a percentage of voters as we approach the college’s next bond campaign,” according to The Willamette Week. The federal government might withhold funding if colleges defy the law.

That’s a potentially high price to pay for what is little more than a symbolic gesture of opposition to the country’s new president.