There has been recent outcry among students and faculty at NYU for President Andrew Hamilton to declare the university a sanctuary campus in the hopes that this will exempt the university from the government’s tightening immigration laws. However, this hope reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what the label of sanctuary campus actually entails and is not a real solution to current and future travel bans.
When pressed, most supporters of this policy will often define a sanctuary campus either as a university that will not volunteer to sell out its undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or as a university that will outright refuse to co-operate with the federal government on these issues. The first definition is meaningless, as no university would ever act against its own interests by giving the federal government reason to deport its students unless it had to. The second definition is simply never going to happen — NYU will never act in defiance of the federal government. Therefore, protesters should stop advocating for this outcome.
NYU acting in defiance of the federal government would not make political or economic sense for the university or its students. If the government were to subpoena school records regarding student documentation, the university would have no choice but to comply. Failing to do so would result in the full force of the federal government raining down on our campus — armed officials would come in and take the records by force, university buildings would be condemned and members of the administration would be arrested. This is not an outcome anyone wants, yet it is a scenario that the status of sanctuary campus could entail.
From a financial point of view, even suggesting that the university would defy the government could cause the value of state bonds issued to NYU to plummet. The value of bonds — debt securities that the university uses to raise money — relies on public confidence in the institution issuing said bonds, and asking that NYU’s administration be prepared to break the law would certainly decrease their value. While civil disobedience may sound like some righteous act of solidarity with people who are undocumented, we cannot sacrifice the safety of many for the protection of a few.
NYU does not have the authority to defy the federal government, and barring future court rulings regarding the deportations and the travel ban, it is likely that it never will. Instead of trying to turn the university into a sovereign entity within the state of New York, these misguided protesters would be better off using their time and resources to combat unjust travel bans in a more informed, constructive context such as donating to or getting involved with the American Civil Liberties Union. With regard to NYU becoming a sanctuary campus, there is very little we should expect from the administration outside of further lip service.
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