On Nov. 16, Vanderbilt students held an impromptu sit-in in Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’ office to deliver a list of demands requesting that Vanderbilt be named a “sanctuary campus,” which would protect Vanderbilt students who are not U.S. citizens from President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed changes to immigration policies. The students were planning to deliver the list of 5 demands to Zeppos himself and were disappointed to find out that he was out meeting with Nashville mayor Megan Barry.
That same afternoon, Mayor Barry’s office Tweeted out a statement saying that Nashville police “are not immigration police, they do not ask about immigration status during stops or conversations with the public, nor do they intend to start now.”
“I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure that Nashville remains a warm and welcoming city that treats everyone with respect,” Barry continued in the statement.
Statement from Mayor Barry on Nashville’s status as a welcoming city: pic.twitter.com/Tx6M7Upm3l
— Megan Barry (@MayorMeganBarry) November 16, 2016
This statement coincides with the five demands that the students read to Zeppos over the phone and continue to encourage him to implement. Nashville-based immigration lawyer Andrew Free, a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, explained that if President-elect Donald Trump wishes to deport two to three million people with criminal records, as he stated he plans to do in an episode of “60 Minutes” aired Nov. 19, then he will need the massive cooperation of state and local authorities. Barry’s statement, in essence, said that Nashville will not be a part of these deportation efforts, and if Vanderbilt were to become a sanctuary campus, it would be making a similar statement to that of Nashville as a whole.
“The main purpose of a sanctuary campus is to say that we are not going to tolerate the hate that is currently being normalized in the media.”
“The main purpose of a sanctuary campus is to say that we are not going to tolerate the hate that is currently being normalized in the media… We are going to continue to be a welcoming and inclusive environment where students, faculty, and staff can come do what they came here to do,” Free said.
Free believes that each demand is necessary for the purpose of preventing or slowing the progress of local deportation agents. Free explained the meaning and feasibility of each demand below.
Demand 1: Cut ties with all law enforcement agencies that collaborate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)
Free explained that schools, including colleges and universities such as Vanderbilt, are considered “sensitive locations.” This means that ICE and CBP officers should generally avoid committing enforcement actions such as apprehending, arresting, interviewing, searching, or surveilling an individual in these areas unless there are “exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action” or the officer has obtained prior approval. Sensitive locations were created via a 2014 Department of Homeland Security memorandum, and also include places such as places of worship and hospitals.
However, this memorandum may be ignored in an effort to deport two to three million individuals from the country, as Trump has promised to do, Free said. What this first demand does is state that Vanderbilt will preserve its status as a sensitive location, even if national deportation efforts are made.
An additional example of cutting ties to ICE and CBP is refusing to facilitate ICE and CBP recruitment efforts on campuses, as many campuses did as a means of protest during the Vietnam War, Free said.
Demand 2: Refuse law enforcement agencies who collaborate with ICE access to any Vanderbilt properties or information.
Vanderbilt students provide the university with a wealth of information that they expect to remain private. But is Vanderbilt required by law to keep this information confidential? The short answer: it’s unclear. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that student grade and financial records be kept private, but this law doesn’t protect other records such as personal observations and university law enforcement records.
“The long answer is that we generally have an expectation of privacy,” Free said. “You guys turn over a lot of really personal information. And you’re turning it over to a private university and it’s identifiable data, and these are things that you may not want the government to know. And my understanding is that disclosure is prohibited under both state and, I believe, federal law as part of the funding and the charter that Vanderbilt has.”
Declaring Vanderbilt a sanctuary campus would make it clear that Vanderbilt would not release students’ personal information.
Demand 3: Institute a policy prohibiting campus police from inquiring about immigration status, enforcing immigration laws, or participating with ICE/CBP in actions.
The Vanderbilt University Police Department does not have any reason to stop a student solely to determine their immigration status, and the stops that VUPD takes part in have nothing to do with immigration status.
“Immigration status is generally irrelevant to the criminal and civil offense, like a traffic stop, or speeding, that you might see.”
Additionally, compliance with this demand would assure that university police departments do not become a part of the involvement of state and local officials in Trump’s massive deportation efforts.
“What Vanderbilt can do is say that they are not going to provide VUPD as backup,” Free said. “We are not going to allow our time and resources to be used for things like this.”
Demand 4: Refuse to cooperate with any ‘registration’ system that seeks to target or surveil Muslims.
As part of the War on Terrorism following 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security implemented the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), which required various noncitizen groups, mainly Arabs and Muslims, to register themselves in the system. The system targeted males 16 years and older from 25 countries, all but one of which were Muslim-majority countries (North Korea is the exception).
NSEERS was eliminated by the DHS in 2011, but during his campaign, Donald Trump stated that he believes a similar system should be implemented to track people from countries such as Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. This demand’s goal is to require Vanderbilt not to comply with a system such as NSEERS.
“It sounds like they’re wanting to bring that back,” Free said. “And the idea here is that Vanderbilt should not be cooperating, or giving any information to this registry.”
Demand 5: Publicly declare Vanderbilt a Sanctuary Campus.
While there is not a strict definition of a sanctuary campus, the student newspaper at Wesleyan University, whose president just declared it a sanctuary campus, said that these efforts “are meant to give the University legal backing on constitutional grounds in a variety of cases. The most immediate would be preventing any University staff from assisting federal authorities in deportation efforts.”
Not only would this declaration have implications for international students, it would send a message to the broader campus and Nashville communities about Vanderbilt’s priorities, Free said.
“In terms of Nashville, the leadership of Vanderbilt at this moment will help to legitimize and embolden other universities and challenge other universities and other public institutions to follow the lead,” Free said. “Vanderbilt is one of the largest employers in the city. It’s known for having a lot of thought leadership and a ton of decisive impact on the way Nashville goes.”
As more schools, such as Yale University and Columbia University, begin to implement these types of reforms, the more challenging it will be for Trump’s immigration plans to be successful on college campuses.
“This puts Vanderbilt as an institution in a place where you’ve laid a marker, saying ‘We are not going to tolerate this.’”
“This puts Vanderbilt as an institution in a place where you’ve laid a marker, saying ‘We are not going to tolerate this,’” Free said. The more places that do that, the harder it is for this to be implemented nationwide.”
What can international students do to prepare for the coming months and policy changes?
“International students are going to be in positions where they are going to be situated within a larger group of immigrants, legal immigrants to the United States, whose lives are going to be uncertain and very hard to plan over the next four years, or however long Trump can stay in office without getting impeached,” Free said.
It is essential for international students to talk to International Students and Scholar Services to assure that they are in status and determine when their status will run out so that they can make a plan, according to Free. Additionally, he recommends that international students have proof with them at all times that they have been residing in the United States for at least two years, if possible.
“This is a ‘Papers, please’ country that they are talking about here, and international students are going to be subject to it,” Free said.
Free recommends that students concerned about their immigration status consult with an immigration lawyer. He and several other immigration and civil rights lawyers plan to organize information sessions and screenings within the next sixty days or so.
Free also recommends the following websites for students who are concerned about their immigration status:
Immigration Legal Resource Center: https://www.ilrc.org/
National Immigration Law Center: https://www.nilc.org/
Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition: http://www.tnimmigrant.org/