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November 22, 2016

West Chester University, Penn call on officials to turn schools into 'sanctuary campuses'

Students and faculty at two local universities are signing online petitions calling on officials to turn their schools into "sanctuary campuses," a move that would protect undocumented students and faculty.

Petitions at both the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University are circulating online, with Penn's reaching hundreds of signatures by Monday evening. It's unclear how much support West Chester's has garnered. These follow a nationwide trend taking off since President-elect Donald Trump's victory.

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While becoming a sanctuary campus would mean the college would be a place for undocumented faculty and students to live and work without fear school officials would turn them into federal authorities, it's not entirely clear how such a policy would be implemented.

Penn's petition, which was started on Nov. 16 and is addressed to President Amy Gutmann and other officials, asks the university to take three main actions: to "make clear that [it] will not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities in deportations or immigration raids"; to create a policy that prohibits anyone at the university from asking a person's immigration status; and to create an undocumented student program that would allow students to keep merit-based scholarships if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program is rescinded. 

"With the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, immigrants in the United States have become even more vulnerable than they were before," students wrote in the online petition.

West Chester students circulated a similar letter and petition Sunday addressed to President Christopher Fiorentino and other university leaders. In the letter and petition, students asked college officials to "immediately begin the process of making our campus a sanctuary for the undocumented immigrants that are a part of both our campus and broader community." 

Trump has vowed to "immediately terminate" DACA, a program created by President Barack Obama that protects youth who came to the country as children from deportation.

West Chester and Penn join schools across the country seeking help from their university officials. Some schools, like Wesleyan University, a private liberal arts college in Connecticut, have responded and are making strides to call themselves sanctuary campuses before Trump takes office in January. 

"At this time, we’re looking into the issue and have requested guidance from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education," Loretta MacAlpine, a spokesperson for West Chester, said via email.

A spokesperson for Penn did not return a request for comment.

Last week, hundreds of students staged a walkout as part of a national day of action that called on universities to protect their undocumented students and faculty. Students from Temple University, Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, Rutgers University, Haverford College and Penn all participated in the event, which was organized by immigrant-advocacy group Movimiento Cosecha, Newsworks reported

Trump has also threatened to cut funding to 31 sanctuary cities, including Philadelphia, that work to limit what federal authorities know about their undocumented citizens.

"Block funding for sanctuary cities ... no more funding. We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths," Trump said in Phoenix, CNN reported. "Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities."

Mayor Jim Kenney told that despite Trump's threat, Philadelphia would keep its status.

“First of all, we’ve changed the name from sanctuary city to the Fourth Amendment city," Kenney told the news website. "We respect and live up to the Fourth Amendment, which means you can’t be held against your will without a warrant from the court signed by a judge. So yeah, we will continue to be a Fourth Amendment city abiding by the Constitution."