December 21, 2016
Dear CCNY Community,
I've been asked on several occasions and by several CCNY entities to make a public declaration of CCNY as a sanctuary campus. This issue is complicated, and deserves more than a simple declaration.
In what follows, I would like to unpack those issues and lay out a clear understanding for what the campus can do to protect our students, and what lies beyond our power.
First and foremost, the offices of this college—administrative, academic, security or otherwise—will not be used as an instrument for the enforcement of immigration law. We are a state office in a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state. That means that we are instructed not to inquire into the immigration status of students in the performance of our duties, unless that inquiry is absolutely necessary in the performance of those duties. At the moment the one exception is a form for students without documentation who want to apply for in-state tuition, and even in this case, student must affirmatively choose to provide such documentation.
The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) actively prevents us from sharing student information, except such information as is required for a directory (and students can opt out of that by filling out a form) and in response to a court order. To reiterate: we are prevented from sharing this information except when we are required to do so. We will continue vigilantly to abide by FERPA laws, and to follow the sanctuary instructions of our governing entities.
Students with reason to be concerned about immigration enforcement will be most protected from those officials in private spaces on campus; CCNY will not give permission for the enforcement of administrative warrants in the campus's private spaces—and we all need to become conversant in the language of public and private spaces here. In the next few weeks, signs will go up on campus describing spaces as public spaces or private spaces. This is an important distinction in the enforcement of immigration law. Immigration officials with a court ordered search warrant can go anywhere in the country. I cannot instruct members of the college community to commit civil disobedience and defy or obstruct such an order (that remains a personal choice). More commonly however, immigration officials use administrative warrants, but can only use them in public spaces.
We will also be issuing cards to all faculty and staff with language they can read off to any external official asking that we participate in the enforcement of immigration law or policy, including by turning over documents. The statement will be a simple affirmation of the strict limits of our compliance, based on FERPA law, campus policy, and the city and state's sanctuary policies.
We know that our concern about these issues is shared by our broader CCNY community of alumni and friends. I have issued a call to CCNY alumni with experience in immigration law, asking that they work with our Immigration Center to set up a network of pro bono assistance for students with immigration concerns. Students with immigration issues should also understand that engaging with our Immigration Center's lawyer grants them the benefit of attorney client privilege---the strongest guarantee of security that we can offer on this campus.
I will not explicitly declare CCNY a sanctuary campus for several reasons. In the current political environment, it is possible that such an overt designation may leave the campus vulnerable to the revocation of eligibility for financial aid, or other federal aid—and that could be devastating for our students. More importantly, however, the declaration of a sanctuary campus is a political statement underscoring a set of commitments and solidarities, rather than a legal designation that offers genuine protection. Our only protection lies in acting with wisdom, forethought and solidarity. Moreover, because we cannot turn immigration officials with court orders away, and because all students may not read the details of what a sanctuary campus truly means, I worry that students may misunderstand themselves to be safe from any warrant when they come on campus. That's a promise we cannot be certain to keep, and the cost of failure in that promise are intolerably high. We should, rather, undertake an effort to take every reasonable step necessary to protect every member of our campus community. But students must understand that despite the declarations of sanctuary wherever it occurs, there is no actual sanctuary in this case.
This is the beginning of a process we will undergo to make sure that our entire community is protected on campus and welcomed into our society. In the New Year, I'll be inviting participation in a working group tasked with making sure we're prepared to meet whatever challenges lie ahead. Efforts to protect our students, no matter where they come from and whatever their status are utterly consistent with the legacy of our campus, and it is a privilege to take up that legacy under whatever conditions we will face. As needs evolve, so will our efforts to protect the whole people represented on this campus.
And, it goes without saying that our efforts to protect new Americans on our campus will be replicated in our defense of students from every faith, every socio economic group, and any ethnic or national background. There is a place for everyone on the CCNY campus, and that means we must all be willing to defend that space against any who seek to diminish it, or demean those who occupy it.
Interim President,, City College of New York