Capping off his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order placing federal funding for sanctuary cities into question.
The order pits sanctuary jurisdictions against White House administration, and it raises the question: What is a sanctuary city, and what consequences will campuses that adopt sanctuary status face?
Santa Fe, a longstanding sanctuary for immigrants, now faces losing millions in federal funding.
The executive order, signed into law on Jan. 25, stated that jurisdictions unwilling “to comply with applicable federal law” will not receive federal funds.
Santa Fe receives $6 million in federal dollars, and the capital city has a long history as a safe haven for undocumented immigrants. Beginning in 1999, the city’s policy has been to not question immigration status and avoid directing funds to assist federal agencies from deporting immigrants.
While there is no precise definition of sanctuary city, many jurisdictions have implemented similar policies to support undocumented immigrants.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center identified nearly 500 counties and 38 cities with policies similar to Santa Fe’s.
Some major cities on the list include Chicago, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. Most of those major cities have binding policies that mandate no municipal funds go to support federal immigration proceedings.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center found that 69 county jails refused to enforce federal requests to detain inmates because of their immigration status.
Typically, if Immigration and Customs Enforcement determines an inmate is undocumented, the agency sends a detainer request to the county jail to hold inmates after their release date. During the extended hold, ICE compiles the proper warrants to begin the deportation process.
Some counties choose to detain undocumented inmates pursuant to ICE’s request.
Sanctuary cities, however, will often only detain inmates if they have prior felonies or are gang members, while others choose to reject all detainer requests.
These rejections are supported by law. Several federal rulings have found detainer requests voluntary, classifying prolonged holdings without warrant unconstitutional.
Santa Fe’s mayor, Javier Gonzales, has stood by the city’s policy despite scrutiny.
“There is nothing that this executive order can do that would compel us to have to change,” Gonzales said in an interview with NPR. “We don’t discriminate. We don’t ask for status. We don’t have a checkpoint coming into the city looking for papers because we do believe that every person deserves respect and dignity when they’re living in our community peacefully, when they’re contributing.”
Acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah expressed a similar sentiment in a communique distributed to the UNM community, wherein he reiterated a University commitment to protect community members, “regardless of their national origin or immigration status.”
Despite efforts to mobilize administrative support after the election, UNM has not adopted a so-called sanctuary campus status.
Last November UNM students, faculty and staff sent a letter to then-President Bob Frank, asking for “concrete ways in which UNM will provide for the safety and security of students, faculty and staff,” who face loss of legal protections.
Frank responded by promising discussions with UNM leaders about “encouraging a campus that protects all of our students.”
Frank also suggested administration was “seeking to clarify what authority our institutions have to declare ourselves a ‘sanctuary’ and what such a designation would mean within the limits of applicable federal and state laws.”
While the term “sanctuary campus” has no legal meaning, it seems states can withhold funding from campuses who take such a designation.
In December, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement on Twitter saying, “I will cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status.”
Last week Republican legislators in the state followed through, and pushed measures to withhold funding from jurisdictions that don’t comply with federal immigration enforcement agencies. The legislation will apply to both local police forces and campus law enforcement.
In early January, representatives from several states sponsored a bill to bar federal funding from going to campuses identified as sanctuary. The legislation was proposed by Representative Duncan Hunter, R-CA, and has not been voted on in committee.
Despite the uncertainty, some universities have already taken action and accepted the sanctuary status.
In November, Portland State University President Wim Wiewel said in a school-wide message that the University would be a “sanctuary campus dedicated to the principles of equity, diversity and safety.”
University of Pennsylvania administration penned a school wide letter on Nov. 30 stating the University would not allow officials from certain federal agencies on campus. The letter also specified University policy to uphold policies to prevent university officials from complying with ICE detainer requests, calling itself a “‘sanctuary’” where students can learn and live.
Santa Fe Community College also approved a measure in late November declaring the college a sanctuary campus.
However, many universities have been hesitant to embrace the designation of sanctuary campus, as well as the responsibilities — and potential scrutiny — that come with it.
New Mexico State University President Garrey Carruthers said the University would “not declare itself a sanctuary,” or take positions on nation-wide issues not pertinent to NMSU. He also claimed the University would not bar federal agents from entering campus, citing concerns about loss of federal funding and scholarship granting ability.
Brendon Gray is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @notgraybrendon.