“Fear gripped the nation, and hysteria crept into the American psyche.”
While, to many, these words feel particularly timely, they’re actually taken from a page on the University of Puget Sound’s website commemorating a sad chapter in this country’s history.
It recalls a profound shame that still lingers: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
For UPS, the disgrace from this regrettable period is particularly raw: 36 students from the university were sent to relocation camps in the spring of 1942.
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Now, nearly 75 years later, students, faculty, staff and extended members of the UPS community are trying to make sure immigrant students — including those studying under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — are as protected as possible from harsh immigration policy shifts.
On Monday, a letter and petition — which gathered more than 1,000 signatures in just over three days — was delivered to UPS President Isiaah Crawford and academic vice president Kris Bartanen. It demanded that UPS declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for immigrant students, staff and community members.
I think many of us in the wake of the election, and also in the wake of the very specific policies that President-elect Trump has threatened to put in place … felt like we had a moral obligation to not just denounce and worry about those things, but also proactively put in place some protection for the integrity of our campus community.
Monica DeHart, a professor of anthropology at the University of Puget Sound
With uncertainty swirling over what President-elect Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration will mean, the effort at UPS is similar to steps being taken at college campuses across the country.
Locally, Portland State University recently declared itself a “sanctuary university.” At Pacific Lutheran University, Donna Gibbs, the school’s vice president of marketing and communications, told me “we have been actively engaged in studying what we, in partnership with our Lutheran congregations, can do to proactively support undocumented members of our community.”
And while University of Washington spokesman Norm Arkans says the UW has not made a similar public declaration — telling me that “using the term ‘sanctuary campus’ suggests a designation that has no official sanction” — he pointed me to a recent statement from UW President Ana Mari Cauce indicating that the university adheres to policies that are in line with “the essence of what is meant by ‘sanctuary.’ ”
At UPS, the recently delivered letter and petition call for the school to refuse to release information regarding the immigration status of students and staff, refuse to comply with immigration deportations and raids, prohibit immigration authorities from removing people from campus and ensure financial support for students who might lose access to federal aid.
That last step is particularly powerful. Finding a way to replace the potential loss of federal aid for students whose immigration status is in question, or those of family members, could be a cost, Monica DeHart, a professor of anthropology at UPS that’s one of many faculty members at the school to take up the cause, acknowledged.
Still, she told me, “We need to put our money where our mouth is.”
“I think many of us in the wake of the election, and also in the wake of the very specific policies that President-elect Trump has threatened to put in place … felt like we had a moral obligation to not just denounce and worry about those things, but also proactively put in place some protection for the integrity of our campus community,” said DeHart.
She told me it’s important for UPS to “affirm its commitment to our students, and also signal to the broader community … what we stand for.”
In Crawford, it would seem the effort has a sympathetic ear. Last week, the UPS president was one of more than 90 college and university presidents across the county to add his name to a letter urging our nation’s political leaders to uphold, continue and expand the DACA program, which allows children brought to the country illegally to attend college and avoid the possibility of deportation.
After receiving the petition and letter from UPS students, faculty and community members Monday, Crawford indicated a willingness to not only listen, but act.
I … am very, very proud to be part of an institution that cares so deeply about this and other issues affecting our community and our country. Our next steps — which are already underway — are to thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluate what is required to make a substantive rather than symbolic commitment to becoming a sanctuary campus.
University of Puget Sound President Isiah Crawford
“I … am very, very proud to be part of an institution that cares so deeply about this and other issues affecting our community and our country,” Crawford told me. “Our next steps — which are already underway — are to thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluate what is required to make a substantive rather than symbolic commitment to becoming a sanctuary campus.”
Amanda Diaz, a current UPS student majoring in American studies, Latino/a studies and sociology/anthropology, said the fear on campus, in just the two weeks since Trump was elected, has been jarring.
“A lot of undocumented students have considered dropping out,” Diaz told me. “Students have already started the process of not coming back next semester.”
When I asked about the possibility of speaking with one of the students they seek to protect, the request was met with hesitation — for fear that “bringing an increases visibility to their presence … could potentially make them more vulnerable,” as DeHart explained. It’s unclear how many students who could suffer under an immigration crackdown are currently studying at UPS.
Even talking to me involved risk, because it calls attention to the school and its immigrant population. “We approach this interview with their safety and their confidentially in mind,” she explained.
“This isn’t just something happening somewhere else,” UPS history professor Nancy Bristow said. “There are human beings right this minute, and this is happening to them.”