Unpacking Towson as a “sanctuary campus”

Students protest in favor of making Towson a sanctuary campus. Photo by Anagelica Gonzalez

By: Cody Boteler, Editor-in-Chief

A petition that’s addressed to Towson President Kim Schatzel, demanding that Towson University become a “sanctuary school” started circulating online before Thanksgiving break—and students are still pushing for action.

According to Student Government Association President Taylor James, the SGA is planning a vote to urge the University to make a public statement and take measurable action in defense of students who are undocumented immigrants.

“This isn’t my issue, I’m not going to be directly affected so it’s difficult for me to speak to it,” James said. “[But] I think it’s important that we follow through on ensuring [students can] continue to get their education and learn and live in a place that’s going to be conducive to their education.”

The petition was started by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and the SGA is supporting the efforts.

A “sanctuary school,” or “sanctuary campus,” would mirror the policies of “sanctuary cities,” municipalities, including Baltimore, that limit city employees and police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status and may choose to prohibit officers from initiating police action with the goal of discovering a person is an immigrant in the United States illegally.

The petition calls on TU to prove its commitment to diversity, as demonstrated through the #NotAtTU campaign, by “immediately develop[ing] a protocol for making our school a sanctuary campus.”

Towson University officials published a post reviewing University System of Maryland guidelines and guidance related to undocumented immigrants on USM campuses Nov. 22, shortly before the break and after the petition began to circulate.

In the post, it was reiterated that the USM and USM institutions “need not, and shall not,” engage in the following activities related to immigration:

•    Permit immigration enforcement authorities to enter campus without a warrant, unless there’s an extenuating circumstance, like an immediate national security concern or risk of death or physical harm.
•    Partner, voluntarily, with immigration enforcement authorities to aid in enforcement actions.
•    Detain an immigrant at the request of enforcement authorities.
•    Request immigration information during a campus arrest, or:
•    Give information to enforcement authorities without a “lawfully issued” subpoena or other court order.

The petition makes demands that Towson not grant permission for Immigration and Custom Enforcement to enter campus, to refrain TUPD from getting involved in immigration enforcement and to not share information about members of the TU community for immigration enforcement without a warrant.

When the post from TU officials and the demands in the petition are reconciled, the only demand that is not wholly met is preventing immigration enforcement officials from entering campus. The petition calls for TU to “not grant permission,” while the post from University officials says that immigration enforcement authorities will not be permitted to enter campus without a warrant or exigent circumstance.

The petition also calls for Towson University to “develop measures that explicitly support” students who may be affected if President-elect Donald Trump cancels the immigration policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that allows immigrants in the United States before their sixteenth birthday and before June 2007 certain privileges to protect against deportation.

The petition calls for TU to make arrangements that could include providing financial support for immigration fees, facilitating legal services for undocumented students and their families and developing scholarships that are open to undocumented students.

In a statement posted around 5:30 p.m. Monday, Schatzel said she was signing a national letter in support of DACA program students and undocumented students.

“We will continue our commitment to all of our students whose divers backgrounds greatly enhance our campus and most importantly our classrooms,” Schatzel said in a statement,
Breya Johnson, a campus activist who has allied herself with LASO to help them with this issue, said that the response from the University lately is “not nearly enough.”

Johnson said that the time between when the petition started circulating and the release was too long.

“Her silence is speaking volumes,” Johnson said.

Johnson also called for a greater level of allyship from the University leadership, including Schatzel. She’d like to see Towson’s president at a LASO meeting, for example.

“You can’t just keep sending [administrators from the] Center for Student Diversity,” Johnson said. “That’s not gonna cut it.”

On the night of Nov. 16, LASO organized an on-campus demonstration as a part of the national movement to claim university campuses as sanctuaries for students who are undocumented immigrants or who are in the U.S. under DACA.

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