Penn will stay a "sanctuary" for undocumented students, President Amy Gutmann announced in a University-wide email on Wednesday morning.
"Penn is and has always been a 'sanctuary' — a safe place for our students to live and to learn," her email read. "We assure you that we will continue in all of our efforts to protect and support our community including our undocumented students."
Gutmann's announcement comes amid calls by undocumented students for her to make an active, concrete statement about Penn being a "sanctuary campus." Various other colleges including Portland State University and Reed College have declared themselves sanctuary campuses.
While her statement did not use the phrase "sanctuary campus" itself, the protections for undocumented students she described align with what a sanctuary campus typically offers:
“The University of Pennsylvania will not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/Customs and Border Protection (CBP)/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on our campus unless required by warrant," she wrote. "Further, the University will not share any information about any undocumented student with these agencies unless presented with valid legal process."
At Penn, undocumented students and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan will continually be supported through financial aid and fellowship stipends, according to the the email. DACA allows certain people who came to the United States as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.
Since the results of the 2016 presidential election, Penn students and faculty have petitioned for the administration to publicly announce that Penn will be a sanctuary campus. Until Wednesday morning, Gutmann remained silent amid these requests.
The email also endorsed Philadelphia’s citywide move to block local law enforcement from turning over unauthorized immigrants to the federal government. In early November, Mayor Jim Kenney said Philadelphia will remain a sanctuary city, regardless of President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts.
Trump, a 1968 Wharton graduate, has called for a crackdown on sanctuary cities. His newly named chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said that Trump will consider cutting millions in funding to so-called sanctuary cities on the first day of his presidency.
2016 College graduate Silvia Huerta, a member of Undocumented at Penn, said she was excited to hear from Gutmann and happy that the efforts of students and faculty on campus paid off. However, she said there is still more work to be done. In particular, she was “pretty disappointed that [students'] request to meet with the President has still not been acknowledged.”
Board member of Penn for Immigrant Rights and College senior Daisy Romero said a meeting with Gutmann is necessary to “establish what being a sanctuary means for Penn.”
Gutmann’s email suggests that Penn has always held the status of a "sanctuary" for undocumented students. While the term “sanctuary city” refers to a city wherelocal law enforcement is prohibited from turning over unauthorized immigrants to the federal government, the term “sanctuary campus” does not yet have a clear, unified definition.
Students also want to meet with Gutmann to discuss a particular point raised in her email about Penn having "a number of permanent staff who serve as advisors to support the specific needs of undocumented and DACA students.”
Huerta said while there are indeed staff at La Casa Latina and the Greenfield Intercultural Center whom undocumented students are “extremely grateful for,” these people are not always equipped to handle the specific problems that undocumented students face.
Helping undocumented students "is not in their job description,” she said. “They do it because they care about these issues and they care about their students. What we need is somebody whose job it is to help and protect undocumented students.”
Huerta added that relying on staff from La Casa Latina also makes the assumption that all undocumented students are Latin American, which is not true.
In a national sanctuary campus walk-out being held at College Green on Thursday, undocumented students will focus their advocacy on securing a meeting with Gutmann, said College senior and Chair of PIR Tiffany Rodriguez.
“I’m sure she’s very busy but I think a simple acknowledgement that she’s willing to have this meeting is important,” Huerta said. “We are about to go off for break and for finals, but we would really like to have that sense of security before then.”
Not all student groups were enthused with Gutmann's announcement. The College Republicans' official Facebook page posted an earlier version of this article with the headline, "#NotMyPresident."
In the end of the email, University officials called for students, faculty and staff to come together during times of fear and anxiety about the future.
“United, we will do everything in our power to ensure the continued security and success of our undocumented students,” the email read. “It is times such as these when we must hold even closer our cherished Penn values of inclusion, diversity, equity and mutual respect.”
A spokesperson for Gutmann's office did not answer questions over email but referred back to Gutmann's comments on the statement at Wednesday's University Council meeting.
This article was last updated on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 8:58 p.m.
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