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How UCLA students hope to redefine ‘sanctuary campus’ to protect black, queer, and undocumented students

Jorge Rivas/FUSION

Students at the University of California, Los Angeles, are demanding a campus with “sanctuary” policies that go beyond protecting undocumented students.

The student activists here don’t just want a campus in which undocumented students feel protected from immigration enforcement; they’re also demanding protections for a long list of marginalized groups, including black, Muslim, and queer students, as well as workers on campus.

About 60 students on Monday afternoon marched to chancellor Gene D. Block’s office to deliver a set of demands they say they’ve been crafting since President Donald Trump was elected. The students filled the hall in front of the chancellor’s office and stood behind a student who spent several minutes reading 15 different demands they say address their fears and concerns.

“We’re not letting any of our community members be forgotten,” Dana Carrera told me after she handed university officials the list of demands.

Dana Carrera, 20, (center wearing green backpack) was greeted by university police and representatives from the chancellor’s office when she delivered the students’ list of demands urging the university to adopt 15 ‘sanctuary policies.’Jorge Rivas/Fusion

Dana Carrera, 20, (center wearing green backpack) was greeted by university police and representatives from the chancellor’s office when she delivered the students’ list of demands urging the university to adopt 15 ‘sanctuary policies.’

When school started last fall, Carrera, 20, was focused on advocacy efforts for student workers on campus. But after Trump was elected, the student group she co-chairs decided to expand their fight.

“It feels like fighting [for different issues] will be more long lasting,” said Carrera, who is double-majoring in sociology and Chicano/Chicana Studies and is the co-chair of the Student Labor Advocacy Project on campus, a coalition made up of different organizations and unions on campus.

UCLA students holding posters with five of the demands sent to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

UCLA students holding posters with five of the demands sent to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block.

While the president and elected officials across the country debate “sanctuary” policies that limit how much municipalities can cooperate with immigration officials, the students here have moved forward on their own.

Legal experts say there is no clear definition of what makes a sanctuary city, but UCLA students are defining what a sanctuary campus means for them and they hope the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, takes cues from their efforts. Carrera, who helped craft the list of demands, says city and state officials can learn from the students’ demands.

At least five of the 15 demands explicitly relate to protecting undocumented students and seek to limit how the university could cooperate with immigration officials. The first demand urges university officials to not comply with “federal immigration agencies and authorities regarding investigations, raids, detentions and/or deportations unless mandated by a judicial warrant, a subpoena, or a court order.”

About 60 UCLA students waited in front of the chancellor's office while all 15-demands were read aloud.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

About 60 UCLA students waited in front of the chancellor's office while all 15-demands were read aloud.

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 200,000 to 225,000 undocumented immigrants are enrolled in college, accounting for about 2% of all college students, according to a 2015 report from The Institute for Immigration, Globalization, & Education at UCLA. The University of California estimates there are 2,000 undocumented undergraduates enrolled across its nine undergraduate campuses. (An additional campus, UCSF, dedicated to graduate and professional studies only, admitted its first undocumented medical student in 2014, according to KQED News.)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have a policy that states enforcement actions at sensitive locations, such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals, “should generally be avoided.”

But Carrera questioned how the policy applied to UCLA because the campus isn’t just a school.

“We want protection for UCLA students, patients and employees y sus familias,” said Carrera, ending her sentence with the Spanish words for and their families.

Dana Carrera holding a protest sign with demand number 15 which urges school administrators to push the mayor of Los Angeles to declare a sanctuary city.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

Dana Carrera holding a protest sign with demand number 15 which urges school administrators to push the mayor of Los Angeles to declare a sanctuary city.

Carrera said students from 12 different student groups came together to craft the list of demands. The groups include the Muslim Student Association, Queer Alliance/Trans UP, Black Grad Student Association, Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, and Socialist Students.

“Although there are 15 demands it was important to get the input of community members,” said Frida Ramírez Aldapa, a student with IDEAS at UCLA, an organization she described as the voice for undocumented students on campus.

Aldapa, 24, who is double-majoring in French and human biology and society, continued, “In the end we’re just really asking to be able to go to class free of fear, to work or be a graduate student here without fear, so a transgender student is able to use the restroom and a Muslim student isn’t afraid of praying.”

Frida Ramírez Aldana said she works with undocumented students on and off the UCLA campus.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

Frida Ramírez Aldapa said she works with undocumented students on and off the UCLA campus.

One of the 15 demands also calls for the university to expand education and counseling services for students who have been victims of sexual violence. Another urges administrators to limit the offenses subject to arrest by campus police.

At least 100 universities across the country have seen student-led campaigns urging administrators to create “sanctuary campuses,” according to Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights group that has organized students around sanctuary efforts.

UCLA students gather in front of Murphy Hall after delivering their demands to the chancellor's office.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

UCLA students gather in front of Murphy Hall after delivering their demands to the chancellor's office.

The push to convince administrators to protect undocumented students ramped up shortly after President Trump was elected. At Columbia University in New York, which has about 31,000 enrolled students, administrators announced that it would provide sanctuary and financial support for undocumented students just weeks after the election. Even President Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, adopted sanctuary policies last December and promised to only allow federal immigration authorities on campus if they have a warrant.

But now the UCLA students have taken their call beyond the general understanding of sanctuary campuses. The students are also demanding their 15-point platform be adopted across UCLA medical facilities, which includes several large medical hospitals and 150 offices across the Southern California region.

A spokesperson for the University of California University said “the UC system has not declared itself a ‘sanctuary’ campus or university because we believe sanctuary is a term that has no consistently defined meaning.”

Ricardo Vazquez, director of media relations for the UC Office of the President said, “President [Janet] Napolitano and the university will continue to do everything under the university’s power and within the parameters of the law to protect UC’s undocumented students.”

Students waiting in a Murphy Hall hallway before delivering the demands to the chancellor.Jorge Rivas/Fusion

Students waiting in a Murphy Hall hallway before delivering the demands to the chancellor.

When asked about the student demands, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s avoided calling Los Angeles a sanctuary city.

“The strength of our city’s commitment to immigrants is measured by our actions, not labels,” Mayor Garcetti said in a statement. “Los Angeles will continue to be a city of protection and refuge because I am committed to doing everything possible to make all Angelenos feel safe, secure and welcome in our community.”

We’re just asking the Chancellor to step up and demand for what is right

- Frida Ramírez Aldapa

UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block earlier this month also sent a message to students stating that UCLA valued the presence and vital contributions of all it’s students, including “immigrant members of our community—especially those from the countries listed in the executive order.” He has also promised to create an Immigration Advisory Council “to analyze the impact of new policies on UCLA, recommend strategies for mitigating any negative consequences and advise me on the relevant needs and concerns of the UCLA community.”

Chancellor Block, shortly after the election last year, also signed on to an open letter calling for the continuation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the federal program that provides some young immigrants a temporary work permit and protections from deportation.

But the students are not backing down with their demands.

“If the [Chancellor] doesn’t have a definition for a sanctuary campus then he should go along with the definition the students are providing him and asking him to implement,” said Aldapa, the young woman who works with undocumented students on campus.

“We’re just asking the Chancellor to step up and demand for what is right,” she said.

Read the students’ full list of demands below: