How Colleges Are Protecting Undocumented Students

December 2nd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

College campuses around the U.S. are calling for enhanced protections for undocumented students who could face deportation under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

Several colleges have already vowed to act as "sanctuary campuses" for undocumented students, refusing to voluntarily comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

But attempts to establish sanctuary campuses are being challenged.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that he would "cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status," linking to a report about Texas State University, where more than 1,000 students have petitioned the administration to adopt rules preventing the school from releasing information about the immigration status of students and faculty, The Houston Chronicle reported.

There's no clear definition for sanctuary campuses, but like sanctuary cities, the term generally refers to policies that offer safeguards and legal services for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The push to establish sanctuary campuses comes in response to Trump's immigration proposals, including his call to deport millions of "criminal" undocumented immigrants immediately after taking office in January and his pledge to overturn President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. Of particular concern for students is the prospect of Trump undoing Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants renewable, two-year exemptions from deportation action for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before their sixteenth birthday.

It's unclear how many undocumented students are currently enrolled in American universities.


In 2008, 25 percent of undocumented immigrants between 25 and 64 had attended or graduated college in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found. Only three states — Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina — have passed laws preventing undocumented students from enrolling in public schools, but by and large, "federal or state laws do not require students to prove citizenship in order to enter U.S. institutions of higher education," according to CollegeBoard.

Though a number of colleges have recently deemed themselves "sanctuary campuses," questions remain as to the ability of colleges to protect undocumented students in the same way that sanctuary cities do.

Barnard College

For one, "sanctuary cities have police forces that could theoretically face off with immigration officers," whereas "schools don’t have that manpower," The Atlantic reports. In that sense, the "sanctuary campus" designation is largely symbolic — an affirmation of support for undocumented students who may avoid enrolling in college, or consider dropping out, due to concerns about deportation.

Trump has yet to weigh in on the sanctuary campus movement, but as ATTN: previously reported, he's pledged to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities that resist his administration's immigration enforcement efforts. The prospect of losing federal funding or research grants over a "sanctuary campus" policy represents a serious concern, The Atlantic reported, but the threat hasn't stopped dozens of colleges from enacting protective policies so far.