Is Your School a True Sanctuary? - Higher Education
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Is Your School a True Sanctuary?

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I’m driving across the country and it’s amazing how even in the summer, campuses seem like oases from the chaos in American life.

Emil Guillermo

When I drive through a campus district, or even a whole town or city where the university is a major institution, I always get that special feeling, that sense of comfort.

I may not have felt that after a bad class as a student or as an adjunct. But I feel that now.

Be it Lawrence, Kansas. Columbia, Missouri. Boulder, Colorado. You name it. Whenever I drove past a university campus on this trip, whether it was University of District of Columbia deep in the heart of our nation’s capital, or Georgetown on the district’s leafy green edge, private or public, two-year or four-year, it doesn’t matter.

It always feels like I am in a welcoming space. The campuses are all landmarks, places of lux and veritas, where rationality ruled and problems and their questions are meant to be solved logically and with humanity.

They are sanctuaries, to some degree, at least to me. And if they aren’t for everyone, maybe you should ask your college administration.

What I feel about a campus is unlike what’s being felt throughout the rest of the country, where a car backfiring triggers off fears of mass shootings. We’ve had a few of those in the last two weeks.

Or like what happened in Mississippi on August 7, when ICE staged the biggest workplace raid on undocumented workers in at least a decade.

Nearly 700 people were rounded up in what ICE called the largest single-state enforcement action in the agency’s history.

And with that, the Trump administration has gone from cruelly separating desperate families seeking asylum at the border, to cruelly separating families living in peace within the U.S.

The new tact is a disruptive force that left mostly Hispanic families traumatized and living in fear.

The raid that netted the most alleged undocumented workers was in Morton, Mississippi, at the Koch Foods chicken factory farming operation.

The plant has nothing to do with the infamous Koch Industries, but it does indicate the interdependence of large-scale operations like at Koch Foods on the mostly Hispanic, often-undocumented labor market.

When Whites left the region as it became more integrated, it left a labor vacuum that incoming Hispanic populations were all too willing to fill.

But as the plant easily justifies exploiting the animals for food, it has easily exploited the workers. The Washington Post reports Koch Foods was subject to a number of federal complaints due to racial and sexual discrimination.

It may not have been a fun place to work. But it was definitely profitable for Joseph Grendys, 57, the Chicago-born son of Polish immigrants who bought the private company almost 30 years ago and is now personally worth $2.5 billion. He’s the 328th richest man in the world, according to the 2018 Forbes rankings.

When you are cavalier about exploiting chickens for food, it’s a short leap to exploiting human beings, of whatever race or whatever legal status.

The ICE raids only complicate things, exposing the complicity of it all.

As we see, it takes two to tango.

Trump know that well. Look at all the undocumented workers Trump employed at his golf properties, according to a Washington Post investigation this year.

Funny how the Trump administration will go by “letter of the law” on some things and not others. Is that Trump’s White privilege?

He chooses to criminalize and terrorize peaceful immigrants, with or without papers, but who pay taxes and contribute to America.

Meanwhile, does he take action on protecting America’s elections from real cyber-criminals, as well as take other recommendations from the Mueller report?

That sort of thing just doesn’t suit him.

But all the nonsense in American political life points to the need for sanctuary.

We can still let ICE be ICE, but that doesn’t mean America’s civil liberties protected by law should be subverted.

It doesn’t mean an 11-year-old like Magdelena Gomez Gregorio should be pleading before the TV cameras: “My dad didn’t do anything. He is not a criminal.”

What’s more un-American? Separating Magdalena from her father? Or ICE destroying a family’s life?

In California, sanctuary laws have been one answer to unnecessary harassment of immigrants. Unfortunately, too much of sanctuary has been misunderstood.

It simply means, state and local law enforcement and other public institutions aren’t in the immigration business. ICE can still do ICE business, but resource-strapped state and locals must stay in their lanes.

That’s the basis of sanctuary laws.

Again, ICE isn’t prevented from doing a thing. But sanctuaries are places where people can feel they are protected from the capricious policies dictated by the current administration. For example, though some of those rounded up may end up deported, almost half of those arrested in Mississippi were released the next day.

The trauma for the children involved may last a lifetime.

If the Mississippi raids were simply a test, a harbinger of more to come, then it’s time for colleges and universities to step up and lead the way.

They should examine their policies and see to what degree they can follow the sanctuary model in California and other states.

In a world where chaos and hate reign, colleges and universities, whole societies unto themselves, are natural leaders. And their campuses should be seen as natural public sanctuaries for a country in need of safe and sane spaces.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and is an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok

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