After sanctuary campus posters were torn down following I-Fair in January, senior Karina Martinez and other members of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A.) began discussing what steps they could take to push the issue further.
This week, M.E.Ch.A. teamed up with the Division of Student Development for an informational session in an effort to address their concerns regarding immigration laws, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and sanctuary campuses.
The informational panel, coming just a month after the introduction of President Donald Trump’s travel ban and an hour after he suggested during his congressional address that legal status be granted to undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes, was spearheaded by Martinez.
“There [were] a lot of conversations and emotions [after the posters were taken down], and we felt that this [panel] was one of the things we wanted to bring to campus,” Martinez said.
Co-president and senior José Guevara said that, as the push for sanctuary campus status took off, M.E.Ch.A. began conversations with other clubs on campus.
“It was about a month ago where we invited presidents from organizations across this campus to come in and start up a conversation pushing for this agenda that we were calling a sanctuary campus movement,” Guevara said. “As we were having that conversation, one of the things people felt needed to be emphasized in this movement was know your rights.”
Panelists attending the event included Tejas Shah, Immigration Counsel at Franczek Radelet P.C., President Teresa Amott, Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez, and Assistant Director of International Student Services Rebecca Eckart.
During the panel, Shah presented an extensive PowerPoint covering the history of DACA and immigration in the United States as well as legal advice for undocumented students. Such advice included: not carrying documents issued from other countries, such as birth certificates, when traveling; being aware of the types of warrants that allow search and seizures; carrying a lengthy emergency contact list with the information for your lawyer and knowing your basic Miranda Rights — you have the right to remain silent.
Amott also took the time to address questions and concerns regarding the college’s stance on immigration policy and whether or not it should adopt the term ‘sanctuary campus.’
“I’ve had some concerns that I might be potentially exposing students on our campus by making that statement, and also potentially affecting our eligibility for federal financial aid,” Amott said.
According to Amott, many of the other college presidents she has spoken with feel as though colleges are in a bind regarding the colleges’ beliefs and using the term “sanctuary campus.”
“If we say that this is something that we are, and we don’t enumerate what we would do, I think that we would be a little afraid that we would be putting a big target on our back as an institution,” Amott said. “We think that as long as we have those same protections in place and we’re committed to those protections that’s the way we should go.”
Shah spoke over the phone with students and other panelists regarding sanctuary campuses and what the term means legally.
“You don’t have to be declared a sanctuary campus or call yourself a sanctuary campus in order to do everything that you can as an institution to protect students or create a safe environment for students that are undocumented,” Shah said.
According to Shah, the term only came into use after cities were declaring themselves “sanctuary cities,” but the difference is that cities have policies in place which mandate that they release the information they have on immigrants.
“The college has clearly indicated its commitment to doing everything that it’s legally able to do to create a safe learning environment for students,” Shah said. “If Knox were to call itself a sanctuary campus, it would obviously sound great, but it wouldn’t change what they’re doing right now to create a safe and secure learning environment for students.”
Amott also directly addressed the undocumented and international students to let them know that they are vital to the college.
“I want to make it very clear that, without our undocumented students, without our international students, Knox College will not be the same kind of place,” Amott said. “We want you here, your place is here and we want to do everything we can to support you as we move through very uncertain times.”