Sanctuary Campuses Come Under Fire in Pennsylvania

How Pennsylvania Republicans Promise to Renew their Attacks Against Undocumented Immigrants

Sanctuary Campus protest / Facebook

College students across the country have launched local campaigns to make their campuses safe places for undocumented students since the election of Donald Trump.  “Sanctuary campuses” promise to protect undocumented students from federal authorities and aide them in finishing their studies.  The spreading movement has caught the reactionary eye of one Pennsylvania Republican who is drafting legislation to stop the movement from spreading to state owned and state related universities.

The University of Pennsylvania became the first academic institution in Pennsylvania to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” a week ago.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that university president Amy Gutmann emailed students on November 30th telling them “the University of Pennsylvania will not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) / Customs and Border Protection (CBP) / U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on our campus unless required by warrant….further, the university will not share any information about any undocumented student with these agencies unless presented with valid legal process.”   

Then this past Friday Swarthmore College announced that they will also become a sanctuary campus.  College president Valerie Smith and board of managers chairman Thomas Spock told the college community that the college will not ask about immigration status or participate in E-verify to check the eligibility of their employees.  College officials stated “when there is a rising national rhetoric of intolerance and acts of hate that threaten people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ individuals, Jews, women, and immigrants, among others, we affirm our protection of these groups, and we affirm our intention to support all students in their quest to pursue their education without government interference.”  Cosecha, a movement advocating for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, indicates that there are sanctuary campus movements at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Lebanon Valley College, Lehigh University, Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh.


Students from West Chester University and Shippensburg University have been circulating letters and petitions calling on university administration to declare themselves sanctuary campuses.  West Chester students and faculty began circulating an open letter calling on the campus administration to declare the school a sanctuary campus.  The letter attaches its support for sanctuary status to the community’s historical involvement as a safe haven for the oppressed dating back to the Underground Railroad, and by moving quickly on the issue, they believe they “can foster a welcoming community for all of its members, regardless of religion, race, gender, sexuality, or immigration status.”  Students and faculty at Shippensburg want to make the university a “safe place for all,” and the two professors who wrote the petition say they need to protect members from all communities because of the recent spike in incidents and hate crimes levied against “immigrants, people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community.”

House and Senate Republicans ended the recent legislative session with a vote on Representative Martina White’s House Bill 1885.  The bill would have preempted cities from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” and have these cities be held financially liable for crimes committed by “unauthorized aliens.”  House Bill 1885 passed both chambers with the help of Democrats, but never made it to Governor Wolf’s desk because of the lack of a concurrence vote.  However, Schuylkill County Republican Jerry Knowles promises to continue the scapegoating of undocumented immigrants in the upcoming session by drafting legislation that removes state appropriations from academic institutions that declare themselves a “sanctuary campus.”

Representative Knowles, who sponsored White’s house bill, circulated a memo to colleagues asking to support his efforts.  In the memo, Knowles states:        

“Sanctuary campuses” exist when the school administration adopts policies to refuse to allow federal authorities on campus without a warrant; direct their campus law enforcement not to communicate, coordinate or cooperate with federal authorities regarding undocumented individuals on campus; or, refuse to share information about undocumented students with federal agencies unless presented with some form of legal process.

I believe that our state institutions of higher education have a compelling interest to ensure the safety and security of the students, faculty and employees on their campuses.  Turning a blind eye to illegal conduct for the sake of making some kind of political statement on this nation’s immigration policy endangers the lives of those that the institution should be protecting.  For this reason, my legislation would prohibit the institution from receiving appropriations from the Commonwealth until such time as such policies are rescinded.

Institutions that are most likely to be affected by Representative Knowles’ legislation are the fourteen state institutions, which includes West Chester and Shippensburg universities, and the four state related universities, which includes Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh.  West Chester student organizer Sabina Sisterovich explains that “sanctuary campuses carry physical significance but also social and shows those students whose communities are under attack that their universities (their home and present community) supports and values them,” and “we will continue to send messages through our petition and other efforts that the only cowards are those who seek to punish and control those who value diversity.” 

This movement is the first movement to gain traction across the country after the election of Donald Trump, and the reactionary politics coming from state legislatures, like Pennsylvania, will not stop college students because the sanctuary campus movement is much more than protecting undocumented students.  It is about building communities of resistance on college campuses and making those campuses all inclusive safe havens that builds and promotes diversity.  Because of that, it will not be the last movement to gain national attention over the coming months.



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About Sean Kitchen 681 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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