Have #SanctuaryCampus Demonstrations Had Any Effect at Colorado Universities?

Since the election of President Donald Trump, there have been multiple demonstrations at universities in Colorado around the #SanctuaryCampus movement, which calls upon schools of higher education to make formal declarations or enact policies that ensure that undocumented students are protected from deportation.

In Colorado, they included demonstrations on November 16 at CU Boulder and at the Auraria campus in Denver, as well as a second demonstration at CU Boulder on February 9, following Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees.

The #SanctuaryCampus movement draws inspiration from sanctuary cities, in which local governments make the decision to limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

But like the label “sanctuary city,” there is no actual legal definition for a “sanctuary campus.” And just as some municipalities, like Denver, have been hesitant to formally declare themselves sanctuary cities or put sanctuary policies on the books — especially with Trump threatening to pull federal funding — some universities are tip-toeing around the sanctuary label.

Given the recent #SanctuaryCampus demonstrations in Colorado, we checked in with those campuses' administrators to see what, if any, effect the calls for sanctuary by students produced.

In the case of the University of Colorado, which has campuses in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, administrators have avoided the "sanctuary" declaration. But that doesn’t mean CU isn’t protecting its undocumented students.

CU Vice President for Communication Ken McConnellogue explains, “We don’t intend to name CU campuses as sanctuaries, and even if we considered it, there are real hurdles. CU cannot prohibit federal immigration officials from entering the public places on campus, although it has been the official policy of Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to treat college campuses as ‘sensitive locations’ where they will not interview, search or arrest any person without extraordinary circumstances.”

However, as McConnellogue sees it, ICE has added burdens if it wants to access non-public spaces on CU campuses. “For non-public places, such as dormitories and offices, federal regulations do not allow immigration officials access without a warrant, and we would expect them to honor this requirement,” he says. “While we believe that the likelihood that federal immigration officials will pursue enforcement actions on CU campuses is very small, we do not want to give a false impression of our ability to prevent them from doing so. We owe our community nothing less than transparency about what we can and cannot do.”

CU Chancellor Phil DeStefano was also one of over 600 representatives of campuses across the United States that signed a letter in January supporting DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was enacted by President Obama under executive order.

Still, some students at CU, including those who organized the #SanctuaryCampus demonstration in February, believe CU hasn’t gone far enough. On a website titled, organizers wrote that they are disappointed with “lack of leadership or strong response such as sanctuary campus status.”

By contrast, at least one of the organizers of the November demonstration at Metropolitan State University of Denver saw her protest on the Auraria campus as being effective.

Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, a senator in MSU’s Student Government Assembly, says that even though MSU President Stephen Jordan hasn’t formally declared MSU a sanctuary campus, Jordan did send a reassuring letter to students and created a Q+A section on MSU’s website related to post-election immigration topics.

“We must remind ourselves that election rhetoric is a long way from actual policy, and that we hold all members of our community — with or without documentation, regardless of immigration status or religious affiliation — as full and protected members,” Jordan wrote in his letter to students.

On the Q+A page about immigration, one sections reads:

Will MSU Denver share students’ immigration status with federal immigration officials?

MSU Denver will not release or share student information with federal immigration officials unless required to do so by court order.

Guadarrama Trejo believes this sends a strong message. “I think this response continues to prove that President Jordan and this institution is one of leadership that strongly supports undocumented students,” she says.

Cathy Lucas, MSU’s associate to the president for marketing and communications, adds that President Jordan recently met with Congressman Mike Coffman and provided a letter of support on a bill that Coffman is sponsoring in Washington, D.C. Called BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy), the bill aims to provide protection to certain young, undocumented immigrants who would be vulnerable if Trump revoked the DACA program.

In his letter, dated March 14, Jordan notes, "In March 2013, the Colorado General Assembly passed the ASSET Senate Bill, 13-033. This legislation, along with the authorization of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has resulted in MSU Denver enrolling the largest number of undocumented students of any university in Colorado.... Of the total population on campus, 24.1% (4,770) undergraduate students identify as Hispanic or Latino, and of those, 340 are ASSET students."

As a student representative, Guadarrama Trejo communicates with many of them. "Ideally, I would like campus to be a safe space for students and would hope that ICE doesn't show up trying to arrest students," she says.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker