Sanctuary Efforts Hit Bard and the Greater Hudson Valley



With President Trump’s crackdown on immigration making headlines almost daily, the term “sanctuary” has become a movement garnering many supporters. How it is applicable to campuses and cities, though, is still a point of confusion.

zoe-headshotHere is how Bard College and the greater Hudson Valley are using the movement to ensure the protection of its immigrants and undocumented residents.

Liz Boyd, a senior at Bard, has been working to protect the rights of undocumented students since February 2016. She says that she shifted her focus to the sanctuary campus movement after learning about it through friends she met while attending a protest in Atlanta. During the Q&A section of an election talk held by President Botstein and Mark Danner, Boyd told Botstein about the movement and asked if he would declare Bard a sanctuary campus. He told her he would.

With help from members of The Draft, a campus-wide human rights publication, and the Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights group, a few students started to organize around ways to make Bard a more accessible place for undocumented students. Advocates of the sanctuary campus movement are now working to raise funds in support of undocumented students and refugees, “providing scholarship, living, legal and other necessary support while students are enrolled at Bard College,” according to Boyd. However, these actions taken in support of undocumented students are specific only to Bard. Sanctuary campus movements like these are different based on the policies of each school.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times, President Botstein argued that it is the duty of American universities to oppose an immigration ban barring a student from studying in the U.S. based on their country of origin. Again, how this opposition will be implemented will look different on each college campus.

Everybody is a little confused about what sanctuary means,” said Botstein, in an interview with Bard Watch. “My understanding of it is that it takes the inspiration from the way churches were traditionally understood as being barriers to which civil law enforcement could not enter. As I understand it, the idea of a sanctuary campus would be one where the university community takes, as one of its positions, that it won’t participate — and will attempt to protect — people regardless of their immigration status.”

Some American universities are not so open to the idea of declaring their campuses as sanctuaries, though, mainly in fear of being targeted by the Trump administration. In a letter to the student body, Reverend John P. Fitzgibbons, president of Regis University stated that, “The label ‘sanctuary campus’ does not have a legal or standard definition, but there are indications that the Federal government might seek to punish ‘sanctuary campuses’ by withholding federal funding that a large majority of our students rely upon, and without which Regis could not survive.”

However, in response to a question on whether he fears “punishment” by the Federal government, President Botstein did not appear to be phased, saying that most Americans are in support of universities continuing to admit students regardless of their immigration status.

“Most Americans have a romance with their own origins,” Botstein said. “Millions of Americans had parents, grandparents, great-grandparents who came here, crawling over borders, in the bottom of ships, without papers. So I think most Americans have an implicit sense of fairness and no education institution, in my opinion, should choose not to educate an individual because of these kinds of considerations. It violates our fundamental mission. The same way that a church — to go back to the sanctuary idea — that if I’m saving souls, and I administer in a belief system by which I am saving souls, I don’t ask for your passport to save your soul. You follow me?”

Most Americans do “follow” this argument, it seems — the American university’s “fundamental mission,” and as Botstein wrote in his op-ed, its commitment to “freedom and nondiscrimination.” According to Bard’s Director of Communications, Mark Primoff, the op-ed was “accepted very broadly and very well,” and that “people, on most sides of the spectrum, basically seemed to agree.”  

The sanctuary movement also extends outside of Bard and into cities such as Kingston, New York. Last Tuesday, February 21, Bard held a panel to discuss the movement in both cities and colleges, inviting the mayor of Kingston, Steve Noble, to come discuss the recent resolutions Kingston has passed in light of President Trump’s immigration reform. He said that the resolutions mainly have to do with building trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, in letting those communities know that if they were victim or witness to a crime, there would be no immigration consequences in going to the police for help. “Our number one priority is to protect and serve anyone that lives within our borders, no matter who they are and how they got there,” Noble said. Kingston joins Ithaca, Burlington and New York city in declaring itself “welcoming and inclusive.”

Still, there is technically no legal definition of what sanctuary means. Andrea Callan, a lawyer at the Worker Justice Center of New York, also spoke at the panel about the legality of the term works. “Sanctuary is not absolute,” Callan said. “Federal authorities still have the right to come into our local communities to execute their duties, the duties that they are empowered to enact regardless of what the local police are doing. There is a difference between what local law enforcement agents like the Kingston police are able to do, versus what federal immigration agents are permitted to do.” She later stated though, that sanctuary policies are “incredibly useful,” because “even though they’re not a complete bar or protection against immigration enforcement, it really just forces federal government agents to do all of their work of these federal enforcement regimes.”

Because of the Tenth Amendment and the Municipal Home Rule, more power is given to states and local governments, which can enact their own laws of protection and security, so long as they don’t conflict with state law and state constitutions. These two laws are “basically why sanctuary cities can exist,” said Callan.

Bard College is also using the law in ways that will further protect undocumented students and refugees that extends outside of the United States. This past school year, Bard College Berlin, in coordination with the Program for International Education and Social Change and the Institute of International Education, provided four full four-year scholarships to three Syrian students and one Greek student. At the end of their four years, these students will receive both German and American academic accreditation. “It’s not a loophole,” said President Botstein, when asked about the program. “It’s being imaginative and aggressive and courageous in the use of your own rights as an institution.”

“This situation is not just an American situation,” said Florian Becker, Managing Director at Bard College Berlin, though saying that the word “sanctuary” comes out of an American context. “We have a situation here where about a million Syrians have received in one way or another, sort of a refugee protection in Germany. The state is essentially supportive of us as Bard College Berlin and many other institutions including institutions that are helping people in that situation.”

Due mainly in part to generous donors, Bard College Berlin has been able to raise money for five more full four-year scholarships to students from Syria and other areas of crisis. “It’s been really exciting to be a part of a project that’s pushing back against the closures that we are seeing in the U.S.,” said Kerry Bystrom, the Associate Dean at the college. “To say, well we’re luckily in a context in which we can be open when certain other campuses and other contexts can be closed. We’re ready to help out however we can given our German location and given what happens with the U.S. travel ban etc. — to play the best role we can for the Bard network in providing places for people.”  

Right now, it looks as though these closures in the U.S. will continue. Last week, President Trump unveiled new policies to enact immigration laws more forcefully, which includes finding, arresting and deporting illegal immigrants, even if they have not committed any crimes. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump wanted to “take the shackles off” immigration agents, allowing them more freedom in the ways in which they go about looking for illegal foreigners.

In response to a question about how Bard should proceed with its protection of undocumented students and refugees, Liz Boyd responded, “We are being very careful, but also fear is not our friend. We need to be diligent, yet unapologetic.” This statement reflects the attitude held by many within the domestic and international Bard network, as well the local Hudson Valley community.


Photo by Jodiah Jacobs/ Bard Watch. 

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