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Pennsylvania Republican Vows to Hit Sanctuary Campuses Where It Hurts

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Jerry Knowles wants to put a stop to the sanctuary campus movement in his state as soon as he and his legislative colleagues get back to work in January.

He circulated a co-sponsorship memo in December in an effort to find like-minded lawmakers to help push a bill that would cut off state funding to any institution of higher education that sets itself up as a “sanctuary campus” to protect illegal immigrants.

Knowles’ memo followed by only a few days the news that two Pennsylvania schools — Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania — had pledged to refuse to allow federal authorities on campus without a warrant. They directed their campus law enforcement not to communicate, coordinate or cooperate with federal authorities regarding undocumented individuals on campus and refuse to share information about undocumented students with federal agencies unless presented with some form of legal process.

In other words, Swarthmore and Penn administrators are setting their schools up as sanctuary campuses.

That is an attitude that Knowles finds abhorrent.

“By declaring themselves ‘Sanctuary Campuses,’ these institutions of higher learning are blatantly disregarding federal law, thumbing their noses at the taxpayers of Pennsylvania,” Knowles said. “Turning a blind eye to the issue of illegal immigrants on campuses for the sake of making some kind of political statement on this nation’s immigration policy is unconscionable.”

Thomas E. Spock, chairman of the Swarthmore Board of Managers, and Valerie Smith, president of Swarthmore, issued a statement in which they claimed the school had no choice but to go sanctuary, given President-elect Trump’s anti-DACA attitude.

“Swarthmore College supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and urges its continuation in the next administration,” Spock and Smith wrote. “Accordingly, we reaffirm our commitment to ensure that undocumented and DACA students continue to be admitted without regard to their financial status and continue to have full access to financial aid.”

The three top administrators at the University of Pennsylvania threw down a similar gauntlet in late November.

“Let us be unequivocally clear: We are and remain resolute in our commitment to Penn’s undocumented students, and will do all that we can to ensure their continued safety and success here at Penn,” read a statement signed by Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive VP Craig R. Carnaroli.

This is not just a Pennsylvania issue. The Associated Press reported the president of the Southern Illinois University system had promised to explore the idea of setting SIU up as a sanctuary campus.

The Texas Tribune reported students are circulating petitions at Texas State, the University of Texas at Austin and University of North Texas asking their administrators to “guarantee students privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of students, staff, and/or university community members.”

This is all about DACA, the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and the fear the Trump administration is going to start rounding up students and shipping them back to wherever their parents came from.

WBUR reported Massachusetts universities have “quietly counseled” their DACA students who traveled overseas for the holidays to get back to the United States before Trump takes office.

“(Trump) is going to take away all the executive orders under President Obama, so it’s very likely that the DACA students may be undocumented yet again,” said associate professor Laila Hlass, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Boston University Law School. “And now the immigration agency has all of their information, so they could easily be put onto a deportation list, and they could be prioritized, if that’s what this administration wants to do.”

More than 550 college and university presidents nationwide signed a statement calling on business, civic, religious and nonprofit organizations to support an effort to ensure DACA continues after President-elect Trump takes his right hand off the Bible and moves into the White House on Jan. 20.

“This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community,” read the statement. “They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”

Rep. Knowles said Pennsylvania higher-education leaders who make the decision to go with a sanctuary campus to protect their DACA students had better be prepared to pay the consequences of essentially breaking federal law.

“The intent of this bill is very simple, it just requires universities or colleges in the state of Pennsylvania to comply with federal law,” Knowles said. “If they choose to not comply, they will forfeit their state funding. Go by the rules or you don’t get the money. We cannot begin to select which laws we want to obey, and which laws we want to ignore and break.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) took a similar stand as soon as he heard that colleges and universities in his state might set up sanctuary campuses.

“Texas will not tolerate sanctuary campuses or cities,” Abbot tweeted. “I will cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status.”