UB faculty members aim to make UB a sanctuary campus


English professor David Schmid said after the 2016 presidential election, people felt isolated, scared and vulnerable when thinking about what the future might hold.

The “Make UB a Sanctuary Campus” movement draws a line in the sand and states the university will not be a part of the immigration policies of a Donald Trump administration, he said.

English professor David Alff noticed a number of colleges and universities were taking steps toward declaring themselves a sanctuary campus in the model of sanctuary cities and communities. He thought that UB should do the same. Alff and other faculty members drafted a petition as a letter to UB President Satish Tripathi, urging him to declare UB a sanctuary campus with the help of other UB faculty members. Alff and other faculty members will eventually determine when to present the petition to Tripathi.

Schmid and other faculty, staff and students decided to participate in the sanctuary campus movement to protect undocumented students and their families from deportation.

In three days, roughly 500 UB students, faculty and staff signed the petition.

Hundreds of sanctuary campus petitions continue to spread across the nation, each with different requirements.

A sanctuary campus at UB would provide tangible measures that offer protection and care for all students, staff and faculty, regardless of their immigration status, according to art professor Jasmina Tumbas.

“That means not only legal and structural support, but also emotional care that takes into consideration the traumatic burden of fearing for one’s existence and safety,” she said.

Sanctuary campuses make a public commitment to limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, Schmid said. The university would do this either by refusing to share information about the immigration status of students and/or by instructing university police not to cooperate with federal authorities such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)in deportation raids, according to Schmid.

“When it comes to the particular issue of deportation, we have to keep in mind that our current President Barack Obama has overseen very large numbers of deportations – the most I believe of any president to date,” Alff said. “And those of us who live in the city of Buffalo know that there has [recently] been ICE raids of two local restaurants.”

Alff said it’s important to think about the ways in which President Obama has “legitimated and consolidated the security apparatus, which in some senses originated in the Bush Administration.”

In the wake of Trump’s election, the threat of deportation is looming over the heads of immigrants arguably more now than ever.

“[Trump’s] plans to scale up the deportation and incarceration of undocumented immigrants is unprecedented and terrifying as a U.S. citizen, as a taxpayer and as an employee at the University at Buffalo,” Alff said.

Alff also said that it has been gratifying to see the names of colleagues, of students and of alumni pile up on the petition every day.

Tumbas, who has an immigrant background and relied on the support of various institutions and individuals, is inspired to see fellow UB colleagues stand up for the most vulnerable community members.

But the feedback on the petition hasn’t been entirely positive.

Some people have signed the petition with fake names while others have left vulgar comments such as “send these people home” among other “deeply insensitive and harmful language,” according to Alff.

Alff realizes that the sanctuary campus initiative is a political statement that members of the community will disagree with, but he still believes the statement is “one worth making.”

Some faculty members have questioned if it’s within the statutory authority of the university to refuse cooperation with Buffalo authorities. Alff said these are great questions that need clarification and he looks to find answers and “refine and broaden the message.”

Another major concern faculty members and opponents to the movement have raised, is whether Trump can withdraw federal funding to the university.

“Indeed he has threatened to withdraw federal funding from cities that identify as sanctuary cities, so I think it’s possible that we can be facing a great dilemma where we make hard decisions about weighing human rights against budgetary needs,” Alff said. “I’m not saying these will be easy decisions but this is the future I think a Trump presidency presents to higher education.”

When Alff began to draft the petition, he tried to think about the unique role UB plays in the State of New York. Alff said since Buffalo is the third largest U.S. border city by population after El Paso and Detroit, issues like deportation are of paramount importance.

“Buffalo has a vibrant set of refugee resettlement. Many of our newest Buffalonians come from Myanmar, Somalia, Bhutan, Iraq, the Democratic Republican Congo and elsewhere,” he said. “I also think Buffalo and Western New York as a whole has been ravaged by depopulation over the last 50 years, so I believe we owe a debt of support to foreign-born Buffalonians who rebuild our homes, refurbish our storefronts, revitalize our commercial quarters and repopulate our neighborhoods.”

Although Trump will one day be gone from the White House, the country will never get back the members of the community that have been deported, Alff said.

“The sanctuary campus movement, along with other social justice initiatives, gives me hope that we won't stand idly by and watch human rights in this country be systematically attacked and dismantled by racists,” Schmid said.

Ashley Inkumsah is the senior news editor and can be reached at Ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com