Why a Sanctuary Campus Matters: Georgia’s Past and Present and our Nation’s Future

We write in response to the recent editorial “Faculty ‘Sanctuary’ Petition is Misguided” and Tyler Zelinger’s “The Dangers of Uninformed Activism.” The first piece argues that the designation of Sanctuary Campus carries no legal force and the second, that the Sanctuary Coalition has not done its research. We argue against these assertions. Emory’s recent statements, which are distinct from policies, draw from the well-researched demands put forth by the Sanctuary Coalition in January: 1) Welcome: Expand admissions and financial aid to include not only DACA but also fully undocumented students because the future of DACA is uncertain; 2) Protect: Pledge lawful non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities unless presented with a judicial warrant. This is a commitment to the rule of law, not a pledge to break the law; 3) Support: Provide access to university services such as pro-bono legal clinics and mental health services.

In effect, the Emory administration has adopted the language of a Sanctuary Campus without making it university policy or declaring itself a Sanctuary Campus. This shows a failure of leadership, especially given Emory’s location in Georgia.  Georgia’s laws prohibit undocumented students from attending Georgia’s top public institutions, making it one of three states — alongside Alabama and South Carolina — to have a college admissions ban based on citizenship status. Georgia is the only state to ban DACA students. Veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) pointed out this policy is reminiscent of Jim Crow. It makes the struggle of Georgia’s undocumented youth to acquire access to higher education resonant with past efforts to desegregate Georgia’s colleges and universities.

At the Feb. 2 panel “Activism and Inclusion: The Struggle for Civil and Human Rights at Emory,” co-sponsored by Volunteer Emory, Candler Social Concerns Network, Emory Global Development Student Council, the Laney Graduate School and the [email protected] and Black Graduate Students Association, Charles Black, the chairman of the Atlanta Student Movement and Morehouse College alumnus, characterized Georgia’s admissions ban as modern segregation and urged students to demand action from Emory’s administration.

Access to education regardless of citizenship status is enshrined in Article 2 and Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Emory can make an important public stand against segregation in higher education, and in support of the basic human rights of undocumented students. Emory’s location in Georgia, and its privileged status as a private institution, makes the “sanctuary campus” designation especially meaningful.

The chilling roundups in cities across the country during the past weeks make clear that Georgia’s recent history regarding undocumented youth now intersects with the Trump administration’s nationwide agenda to deport three million undocumented people. The ACLU immigrants rights project and other immigrants rights groups contend that Trump’s agenda far exceeds that of the Obama administration, which had limited its dragnet to those with a criminal record.  

This situation, which has produced fear and anguish in immigrant communities, will likely worsen, and the risks for undocumented youth will intensify as the administration sets its sights on rolling back DACA. Now is not the time to hope that federal and state authorities won’t notice Emory’s pledge of non-cooperation with immigration officials who seek information about its students’ citizenship status, or to back down to threats made by politicians regarding Emory’s funding. Instead, it is time to show leadership and declare our position openly, which is what a “Sanctuary Campus” designation will achieve.  

Emory should take inspiration from the courageous undocumented youth who time and again risk arrest and deportation through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at the Georgia State Capitol and meetings of the Georgia Board of Regents to call attention to injustice and advocate for change. Change entails risk, bold action and courage; this is Emory’s credo. We urge Emory to stand by its principles and go where courageous inquiry leads: send a strong message that it supports the fundamental human rights of all of its students — including freedom from fear — by declaring itself a sanctuary campus.

 

Karen Stolley is a Professor of Spanish and Yanna Yannakakis an Associate Professor of History.