UMass will not become a sanctuary campus, officials say


The University of Massachusetts, Amherst announced on Feb. 17 that it would not become a sanctuary campus.

The concept of a sanctuary campus is modeled on that of a sanctuary city, which, according to CNN, is a “broad term applied to jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions.” Cities, counties and some states have various formal and informal sanctuary policies, most of which focus on not cooperating with federal enforcement of immigration laws.

UMass released an official statement explaining its decision: “Declaring UMass Amherst a ‘sanctuary campus’ is not in the best interests of the university community because the term has no legal definition and would not provide any additional legal protection for students, faculty and staff. Such a declaration could unintentionally create a false sense of security for those affected by federal actions. And it would potentially bring unwanted attention to vulnerable members of the campus community, such as students currently studying through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.”

The administration expressed their commitment to supporting their students, faculty and staff regardless of their immigration status and that they would continue to take necessary steps to ensure their protection. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, in the statement, was quoted in a message to the UMass community: “We will do everything within our legal and moral authority to protect our students, faculty and staff whether they be undocumented immigrants, refugees or international students.”

The statement also cautioned that becoming a sanctuary campus could put at risk the University’s federal funding. According to the American Bar Association, it is unclear as to whether or not the establishment of a sanctuary campus would cause a college or university to lose their federal funding. UMass, as a public university is a state-run, federal entity. The majority of their funding thus comes from the federal government.

Many within the UMass community were disheartened upon hearing of the University’s decision. One such individual was Anna Clare-Simpson, a graduate student at UMass and a leader of the UMass Sanctuary Campus Movement. Mount Holyoke News attempted to reach out to Simpson, but Simpson was unavailable. However, as an advocate for a sanctuary campus at UMass, Simpson was quoted in an article written by MassLive about her response to the University’s decision.

“[Sanctuary is] a commitment by an institution or community to NOT aid federal agents in identifying and capturing people for deportation (amongst other things). This does not make it a ‘meaningless’ commitment at all, as it is a specific response to unjust laws. We recognize that the UMass administration are not in charge of the law, nor can they guarantee anyone’s safety.”

The UMass Sanctuary Campus Movement’s aim, according to their Facebook page, is “to have UMass declare itself a sanctuary campus system.” Further, they define sanctuary as “a space that actively cultivates immigration equality as well as economic, racial, gender and sexual equality.” The group has organized teach-ins, strikes and other forms of social activism to help raise awareness of the sanctuary campus as an option for UMass.

Many UMass students claim that they were not notified of their University’s decision not to make the campus a sanctuary campus. UMass typically sends an email to their students, faculty and staff notifying them of noteworthy occurrences. They also tend to link these announcements to their social media pages. However, the University did not announce this to the UMass community via email or social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

UMass students, staff and faculty expect their school to communicate important happenings, such as this decision, either through email or social media. One of these students is Richard Cuoco, a senior music education major at UMass. “I always read emails from the University, and I definitely would have noticed an email like that.” This suggests that perhaps UMass wanted to obscure its decision, and thus chose to bury the announcement on their website.

Many of those within the Mount Holyoke community are concerned with UMass’s decision. Kayla Ryan ’19 is concerned that a decision against forming a sanctuary campus and the protection of undocumented students has occurred within the close-knit Pioneer Valley. “Although I understand the reason why UMass officials chose to not be a sanctuary campus for legal reasons, I think it’s disrespectful to the students that go there that are not documented.”