“We declare that Portland State University is a sanctuary campus dedicated to the principles of equity, diversity and safety,” announced Portland State President Wim Wiewel in an email to the entire student and faculty body of the university.
Ten days after Donald J. Trump became president-elect of the United States, PSU students have taken part in various political protests against the results of the election.
“In recent days, concerns have been raised by some students, faculty and other members of the university community regarding possible immigration law changes and the potential impacts of such changes on our students,” Wiewel stated. “In particular, concerns have been raised regarding the safety and well-being of our undocumented students and those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.”
DACA is a program directed at undocumented people who arrived in the U.S. as children, which sometimes grants a two-year allowance to stay and work in the U.S.
Wiewel assured that due to the unforeseeable nature of federal and state policy, PSU would do its best to protect undocumented students by refusing to cooperate with federal and/or state immigration laws unless absolutely necessary.
“Well, this is a time of really high tension, and it’s so easy to start to feel isolated and unsafe,” said PSU student Maeve Stier. “The idea of mass deportation is terrifying, it tears communities and families apart; so I think that it’s essential to at least have a safe place to learn.”
Although Portland State has been historically cited as a politically liberal institution, this is the first time it has taken a campus-wide political stance in defiance of federal law. Some university students have insisted on this change since the election, not only by taking part in protests, but by organizing a student walkout and meetings to plan courses of political action.
A student organization called Anyone’s Resistance wrote to Wiewel. The group spoke of the dangers students could face with Trump’s presidency and gave a list at the student walkout. The demands involved preventing campus police from enforcing immigration laws, the prevention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering campus (except in some cases), and forbidding the campus from releasing citizenship statuses of any university student to ICE.
The City of Portland had already organized in the days following the election. Thousands of citizens marched the streets and highways of Portland in protest, and future Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has said that Portland will be a sanctuary city, though not in certain terms.
Trump campaigned with controversial views, urging public uproar despite a lack of any legal backlash. Perhaps his most provocative proposal was his promise to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, as his goal was to stop illegal immigration and suspend immigration from “terror-prone” nations. Under the leadership of the new president-elect and the support of the Republican-dominated Congress, aggressively anti-immigrant federal policies may very well pass.
“It’s terrifying to me because there’s no way to tell when or what they’ll do, and how they’ll do it,” said an anonymous, undocumented PSU student-immigrant. “I remember I was actually crying right after the election results made it official—my whole family and I had stayed up late, and because my parents don’t really speak English, I had to tell them what was going on as I started crying. It’s not just a wall they would build, it’s more hate, more deporting, and I don’t want to leave. It’s not fair.”
While the student asked to remain anonymous, they emphasized their concerns for an increase in anti-immigration sentiments within the U.S. The student stated that their little brother was subject to harassment at his school following the election, through racial slurs and being told to “return to Mexico.”
“He wasn’t the only one either, it’s happening all over the states,” the student said.
Although statistical data enumerating an increase in racist violence towards immigrants has not yet been published, there have been hundreds of reports made by victims of public harassment around the country. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center website, following the first ten days of Trump’s victory, there have been 33 confirmed reports by schools in Oregon of anti-Mexican harassment toward students.
Nationwide, images of swastikas have been graffitied onto walls, and nooses have been hung in schools with predominantly black, Latino, or other non-white ethnicities, which have been documented through Facebook and other social media sites.
The Detroit Free Press reported that a woman wearing a hijab in Ann Arbor was threatened with being set on fire if she did not comply with a stranger’s demand to remove her hijab.
In a study done by the SPLC, the increase in violence and aggression towards minority groups in schools has been confirmed by surveying over 10,000 teachers. This phenomenon is being called “The Trump Effect” by the SPLC because of its direct correlation with Trump’s election. Brooklyn’s Sunset Park leaders received various reports of immigrant children being bullied by other children who felt justified by Trump’s win, telling immigrant children they were all going to be deported.
The status of PSU as a sanctuary campus is a symbol of hope and solidarity for some. If enacted, undocumented students could consider PSU a safe place should any new immigration laws be passed in state or federal policy. However, there have not yet been reports of an action plan in regard to Wiewel’s sanctuary campus promise outside of the email. It is unknown whether or not campus security has been given an order of noncompliance with immigration enforcement, and there is currently no way for students to monitor interactions between the university and ICE.
Prior to the 2016 election, the concept of sanctuary universities did not exist. The students of this campus have shown no signs of lessening their own political activity, which, in terms of public sentiments, leans heavily towards protecting immigrants rights. PSU is among the first of a small group of universities proclaiming sanctuary status.