By Fangzhou Liu
University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne declined to officially declare Stanford a “sanctuary campus” in a Thursday meeting with a coalition of students and campus workers pushing Stanford to take a stronger stance in defense of undocumented community members. However, Tessier-Lavigne promised to continue partnerships with Stanford Sanctuary Now (SSN) by connecting it with the University Working Group on Immigration Issues and enhancing online admissions information for undocumented applicants.
According to Lisa Lapin, vice president of university communications, Tessier-Lavigne refused the sanctuary label because the term was “not well-defined” and might put students and employees at risk of federal sanction.
But for many student supporters, refusing the sanctuary name is an abdication of responsibility.
“[Tessier-Lavigne] said that he feared that it would make us a target for the Trump administration and that it could potentially put students at risk,” said Kari Barclay, a first-year Ph.D. student in theater and performance studies. “But the people who need it are already targets.”
The sanctuary campus movement was inspired by the “sanctuary city” status that 30 municipalities in the U.S. have adopted. Sanctuary cities generally do not use municipal funds to enforce federal immigration laws and grant residents access to city services regardless of their immigration status. However, the term does not have a legally precise meaning.
Since the presidential election, campus movements have adopted the term “sanctuary” to mean policies that protect undocumented students and employees from federal immigration enforcement. An important thrust of the movement has involved urging administrators to formally declare their schools sanctuaries, although only a handful of colleges have acquiesced, such as the University of Pennsylvania. Administrations that declined to adopt the name include the University of California system and Harvard University.
At Stanford, the sanctuary movement grew out of a November petition initiated by Renata Martin, a first-year Ph.D. candidate in biology. Thursday’s meeting between SSN and Tessier-Lavigne was planned following Inauguration Day protests at Stanford, in which over 100 students walked out of class to march for rights that they feared would be threatened under President Donald Trump’s administration.
While disappointed by Tessier-Lavigne’s refusal of the sanctuary campus label, SSN expressed more qualified reactions to the University’s explicit policies. Since November, the University has promised to protect the privacy of student and employee records, reiterated that immigration enforcement officials cannot enter campus unless legally required to do so and connected students with the Immigrant Rights’ Clinic, which is funded through the Stanford Law School.
Lapin noted in an email to The Daily that the University has been firm in its support for immigrants since the November election.
“The University has been consistently expressing its support, throughout the fall,” Lapin wrote. “But yes, the students’ articulate comments and sharing of their personal experiences has also been influential.”
SSN member Emma Hartung ’17 acknowledged that many of the group’s specific requests are outlined with the knowledge the University has already made some basic commitments to student safety.
“We’re pleased with the support for students on the record, including the recent [amicus brief],” Hartung said. “But we’re hoping Stanford can commit to being a leader [in the sanctuary campus movement] as they are in so many things.”
Hartung emphasized that legal support for local communities and campus workers — including both direct employees and subcontractors — could be enhanced and more widely publicized. She added that the University could educate workers about their immigration rights and promise “all possible protection” from federal immigration enforcement, such as advance notice of impending inspections in worst case scenarios.
One campus worker was among the 10 SSN representatives that met with Tessier-Lavigne. The worker, who declined to be named, said in a prepared statement, “This place is the economic support of our families. We feel proud to work here. We would like to hear an official declaration of support.”
When asked if workers would receive University support as well, Lapin wrote to The Daily, “We support everyone in our community.”
Yvette Borja J.D. ’18, a leader in Stanford Advocates for Immigrants’ Rights (SAIR) at the Law School, said that the University could also develop clear protocols in case officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) come on campus. While she believes the University could clarify its policies, Borja generally approved of Stanford’s stance so far as it compares to peer schools.
“I mean, there’s always room for improvement, but I don’t think Stanford is strikingly behind on [protecting students and employees],” Borja said.
She added that the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the Law School has recently received funds to hire an additional attorney, while SSN has a special subgroup for workers in need. A range of programs and services for Stanford affiliates and local residents is operating out of the Law School, including the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, an immigration pro bono program and SAIR’s legal rights teach-ins and information sessions for affected community members.
Barclay expressed disappointment that the University was not able to commit immediately to the concrete protocols SSN suggested, but acknowledged that the meeting was about “laying the groundwork” for future collaboration.
Beyond specific measures, many SSN members and supporters echoed Hartung’s call for moral leadership from the University. Postdoctoral fellow Alan Ceaser was dissatisfied with what he saw as the University’s noncommittal stance, especially its refusal to declare itself a “sanctuary.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Ceaser, who waited outside the meeting to show support for SSN. “Stanford’s kind of been hedging its bets and saying, ‘Let’s see how it happens.’”
On the other hand, Borja took a pragmatic view of the issue.
“The title ‘sanctuary’ is about feeling safe, and if the University is not comfortable about taking the label then they need to publicize the measures that they’re adopting,” said Borja. “The most important thing to me is that people feel safe.”
According to Barclay, Tessier-Lavigne said he hoped to work with SSN and its affiliates to better communicate Stanford policies and resources for undocumented students and employees, to the benefit of both sides. The University has already created a resource page for undocumented students and students affected by President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Meanwhile, SSN aims to proactively engage with the University to advocate specific proposals and more publicity for existing policies.
SSN member John Bonacorsi J.D. ’18 reflected that the direction the sanctuary movement takes from here is defined by ongoing efforts from both students and the University.
“What does ‘sanctuary’ really mean?” said Bonacorsi, noting the term’s lack of inherent legal meaning. “It means what we make it mean, by advocating for treating workers better and making policies more clear. Right now, we’re in the process of working with the school to find out what ‘sanctuary’ actually means.”