On Tuesday Feb. 21, students and administration sat down to discuss declaring Whittier College a sanctuary school. Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Pérez Director of Communications Ana Lilia Barraza, and Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion Jenny Guerra sat down with six students from the paired U.S./Mexico Border Studies and Chicano/Chicana Literature courses taught by Professor of History Jose Orozco and Professor of English Michelle Chihara. Three of the students are Deferred Action for Child Arrival (DACA) students.
One of the Students, Alma Corado, opened the meeting by expressing concerns shared by many in the class and the larger Whittier College community. “Our vulnerable communities, especially our undocumented students are at a higher risk under the new presidential administration.” The class collaborated and wrote a petition, open to other members of the Whittier College community to declare the College a sanctuary school.
The petition comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s efforts to follow up on its campaign promise. President Trump made comments like, “Within ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] I’m going to create a new special deportation task force,” while on thecampaign trail. On the day of the meeting, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced orders to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and ICE, for mass deportations of undocumented Americans. DHS’s new memos are in response to Trump’s executive orders in January on tightening border security and enforcing immigration policies.
The petition is circulating online and in person. So far, the online petition has garnered 362 signatures from students, faculty, alumni, and community members. Students in the paired course have physical copies of the petition and are gathering students signatures individually, so the total number of signers is unclear at this time.
The petition is non-binding, and declaring the campus a sanctuary school is contingent on approval from the Board of Trustees. However, the class is using the petition to gauge interest and express the campus’s support for DACA students and other vulnerable communities.
Pérez commended the students on their work, emphasizing how difficult these times are for DACA, friends, and family of undocumented Americans. DACA is a protective measure from deportation, contingent upon review every two years. A person may be eligible for DACA if they were brought to America before age 16. The new DHS orders explicitly state that DACA is not included, but students are concerned about possible additional orders that may change this.
Declaring the College a sanctuary school faces some obstacles, including the unclear definition of what that would actually entail. The petition’s language attempted to clarify this, explaining equal access to educational resources for all students, limiting or denying access by CBP officers, and school-wide alerts should ICE or CBP be on campus for any reason.
Additionally, there is some concern that if the College endorsed such a petition, even if it’s only symbolic, it could face governmental backlash. Whittier College students could suffer financially due to the school’s small endowment, which would not be able to support its students if federal funds were pulled.
The financial component is especially crucial given that the College is a small, private institution which may not have the resources, such as Title V grant, of other large schools to combat a potential loss in federal funding. How and to what extent the federal government can make adjustments to the College’s financial assistance is unclear, but it is something the College administration and its Board of Trustees is probably taking into consideration.
One potentially small solution to funding education for DACA students is currently being considered. In the meeting, Pérez explained that, “Students who have DACA numbers... still don’t qualify for federal work study but you get exception funding. So figuring out a way for us to provide funding in a way that wouldn’t require you to have a social security number or a DACA number in order to receive it.”
There are other things to consider while trying to declare the College a sanctuary campus. Most of them are logistical, like whether or not to allow ICE or CBP on campus at potential employment recruiting events. One of the proposed solutions, Pérez said, “Instead of having them show up on our campus, similar to what we do with other employers is, ‘hey, there’s this employer who is wanting to recruit students.’ They then register on Handshake, and then that information is made available to students who may be interested, as opposed to having them show up to campus.”
Ultimately, it will be the Board of Trustees who will vote on whether or not to make the College a sanctuary school. Students from the pair course will be meeting with the Board on Friday to present their petition and answer the Board’s questions with Senior Staff members Pérez, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of Athletics Rob Coleman, and VicePresident of Enrollment Kieron Miller.
The class presented its petition on Monday at the ASWC Senate meeting to gauge student levels of interest. At the meeting, the Board could potentially vote on the issue and have an answer as early as Saturday.
If the board votes no, the students will be able to appeal the decision at the next Board meeting in May.