The reality of a sanctuary campus

An informative look at PSU's declaration and what's at stake

Portland State President Wim Wiewel declared Portland State a sanctuary campus on Nov. 18, 2016, committing to refuse enforcement of federal immigration laws. Since then, many have been left wondering how this affects students and how seriously the federal government will take the declaration as a threat to its authority.

On Jan. 31 the American Council on Education sent a letter signed by 46 higher education associations representing hundreds of universities, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, of which PSU is a member, to the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly. The letter states that Trump’s visa ban “has created uncertainty and fear across the country and on our campuses.” The letter asks DHS to be flexible “whenever possible for students and scholars who clearly pose no threat.”

PSU currently has 64 students enrolled who are from one of the seven countries with a visa ban and approximately 80 students who are a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It is unknown how many students attend PSU without legal residency.

A sanctuary campus

“[It]’s more of a symbolic activity, to go after sanctuary campuses, that doesn’t really buy the federal government anything,” said PSU President Wim Wiewel. “It doesn’t get them anything, so I frankly don’t expect much action there. But it’s possible that a year from now the laws and regulations regarding what it means to be a DACA student may look different than they do right now.”

Days before Wiewel declared the campus a sanctuary, PSU students walked out of class to protest the results of the U.S. presidential election. One portion of this walkout, which identified no specific organizers, was a march to the president’s office and the reading of a demand letter focused on the creation of a sanctuary campus. The letter was left in the lobby for the Board of Trustees at PSU.

It is unknown whether the list of demands spurred the declaration of a sanctuary campus two days later, but PSU and Reed College were among the first campuses in the nation to declare sanctuary status.

Protests since the election have been numerous in Portland, including two days of protest at Portland International Airport on Jan. 28–29, which specifically protested an executive order signed by President Donald Trump to ban entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Mayor Ted Wheeler joined this protest at one point, despite conflicts with many of the protesters over force used on previous protests in the city.

There has been some backlash toward activism in Portland as well. In a press release around the subject of free speech by Oregon Association of Scholars on Feb. 3, PSU professor Dr. Bruce Gilley stated, “Recent events in Oregon and around the country show that intolerant student groups are being allowed to muzzle free speech and impose their own ideological preferences on the campus community.”

On Dec. 22, 2016 Multnomah county voted unanimously to be a sanctuary county. The city council of Portland has not yet voted on Portland’s future as a sanctuary city, but “state law generally forbids state and local government resources from using public resources to enforce immigration laws,” according to Portland’s Office of the City Auditor.

One PSU student

Bashar Al-Daomi is getting his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at PSU, advanced wastewater treatment processes, as well as a second master’s degree at UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education this year. His first engineering degree was earned at the University of Baghdad, where after graduation he was a faculty member for another four years. The Iraqi government awarded him a scholarship to attend PSU where he has been studying since 2013.

In 2003 he was a student in Baghdad and experienced the American-Iraqi war. “It was quite horrible situations when you see everything around you damaged in your country because of the war, but I remember we had a hope!” Al-Doami said, and continued that the hope was rooted in moving towards a Western way of education, health and economics.

“In modern Iraq in about 2008, the Iraqi government developed an agreement with USA to work together and share and apply the American values in terms of democracy, human rights, discrimination restrictions based on color, religion, and racism,” Al-Daomi said.

Al-Daomi has an impressive resume of contributions to PSU: teaching assistant, grad-student mentor, mentor leader, leadership awards committee member, student sustainability advisory board and former leader at Iraqi Student Association at PSU.

Al-Doami is a Muslim student and said he has used PSU’s prayer room, but only one time. “I do not like to participate in religious events on campus,” he said. “I love to be in social and cultural events and be a volunteer.”

Monetary risk of being a sanctuary campus

Mike Johnson, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at PSU said it was impossible to predict if the Federal government would cut funds to PSU.

“We also don’t know what actions the government would consider violations that would warrant a response,” Johnson said.

If PSU loses its federal funding, the effect on students will be severe.

“If legislation were passed that resulted in ‘sanctuary campuses’ losing the ability to participate in federal financial aid programs, students would no longer be able to receive Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal TEACH Grants, Federal Work-Study, or Federal Direct Loans,” Johnson said.

The university risks losing research and grant funding provided by the federal government as well. In the 2015-16 fiscal year PSU recieved $42.7 million of federal research money.

“The important thing there is [a cutoff of federal funds] cannot just be done by an executive order,” Wiewel said. “Anything like that would require legislation. So that’s a long process. There would be lawsuits.”

Wiewel went on to talk about our working with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and other associations for universities. Doing so keeps the school up to date on what is going on at the Federal level and how to litigate collectively.

If the school were put in a place to lose federal funding, it would be Wiewel’s decision regarding what to do.

“The decision to declare a sanctuary campus was within my authority to make,” Wiewel said. “To change that would also be within my authority. Again, if maintaining sanctuary status or changing it in some way would have a significant material effect on the campus, then it might rise to the level of the [BOT].”

Student Legal Services

SLS is completely funded by the students through the incidental fee and is available for all students to use at no cost. For 2018 the group received a 4.49 percent increase in student funding from the previous year, totaling $710,676 of student money.

According to April Kusters, assistant director/attorney at PSU SLS, they have had a 60 percent increase in demand for immigration assistance from Nov. 8–Dec. 8, 2016 as compared to the same period in 2015.

In an interview conducted before the signing of the executive order, Renee Cummings, attorney at Oregon Immigration Group, PC, who is contracted by SLS, said the most common consultations at PSU are from people trying to immigrate through a family member, usually a spouse, followed by consultations with international students concerning asylum options and visas.

“[One] thing that I have been expressing to people who are afraid is that everybody has a right in this country to a fair process,” Cummings said. “So in the process of deportation, everybody has the right to have a hearing, and the only person who can order you deported is an immigration judge.” She explained that applying for asylum or cancellation could be defenses to deportation and that immigration judges may see 30–60 people a day. Cummings also explained there are only three immigration judges in Portland.

“In my opinion, there are a lot of people who go to school at PSU who would be eligible for asylum who don’t know it,” Cummings said. She gave examples of homosexual students from countries with strong anti-gay religious beliefs, women subject to genital cutting, and Middle Eastern countries in heavy conflict.

Cummings was clear that executive orders were the most immediate danger to PSU students, whereas immigration laws must be changed through Congress and would take some time.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

At first, much of the talk of a sanctuary campus at PSU was focused on DACA students. DACA is a 2012 executive order which allows illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors to apply for a two-year renewable period which allows them to live and work in the U.S. without being deported.

“DACA is not based on a law, it’s based on an executive order,” Cummings said. “So it was created with the signature of the president, that’s it. It can be overturned in a second, with Donald Trump’s signature. That’s almost 700,000 people.”

Students with this status may be particularly vulnerable as their details are clearly known by the Federal government which awarded them the status.

“For all the kids who are in DACA, for most of them, there is no line that they can get in, and it’s not that people are being willful,” Cummings said. “People who are undocumented are undocumented because there are no options, period. It’s not that they could be getting their green cards.”

Visa ban

On Jan. 27, 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning nationals of seven countries from entering the U.S. with either immigrant or non-immigration visas. Those countries include Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. The restriction requires a 90-day ban, with the potential to last longer. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.

“We have this term currently enrolled 64 students from the countries named in the executive order and they’re from five of the seven countries named. They’re from Iraq, Iran, Libya, a few from Yemen and a few from Syria,” said Margaret Everett, vice provost for International Affairs and dean of graduate studies.

The executive order is titled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Everett said. “This has not been rolled out in an orderly way, let alone our misgivings about the order itself. [It has] unnecessarily, I think, created a lot of chaos and uncertainty and anxiety for students.”

Students already in the U.S. are currently safe from deportation, but should they leave the country and try to return they could be barred from re-entering.

“I do not want to put my scholarship at risk of losing everything,” Al-Daomi said. “I’ve cancelled my plan to travel to Canada to attend conference this summer. Also, I did not accept an internship/training for three months in UNESCO–IHE–Netherlands. It’s a big loss according to my American adviser at PSU, Dr. Bill Fish.”

Everett said the majority of PSU students from the affected countries are graduate students.

“[T]hey’re in programs like civil engineering, urban planning, environmental engineering, engineering technology management,” Everett said. “They are building capacity to go back to their countries and contribute to those rebuilding efforts, and to contribute to their societies. And I’ve always been really proud that PSU is a destination to those students and that we are contributing to those efforts. So you could imagine our feeling is that in no way does this enhance our national security; it damages our relationships with important partners.”

Everett said she and her colleagues are reassuring students from those countries with banned visa status of their rights as current visa holders. She said they are warned not to travel, and that many are concerned because their family will be unable to visit, including to graduation ceremonies.

“I think what we’re also seeing is a chilling effect for all of our international students,” Everett said. “There is a sort of sense of what’s next and an atmosphere of, I would say on the national level an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and an unwelcoming tone. But I think Portland and [PSU] are a very welcoming, open, tolerant, safe destination for international students. So I imagine their experience now is kind of strange in that they continue to say they appreciate how welcoming and supportive this community is. [But on a] broader national context it’s not so welcoming.”

Students without legal residency

There may be illegal immigrant students on campus as well; it is unknown. At no point in the PSU admissions process is a social security number asked for or proof of legal status. Federal scholarships and grants such as FAFSA do require proof of legal status.

“[Illegal immigrants] apply for admission through the same process as other applicants,” Johnson said.

According to PSU registration requirements, “Residency is determined in the evaluation of location of domicile, financial dependence or independence, primary purpose for living in Oregon, type and source of financial resources as well as other indicators.”

Cummings said that illegal immigrants are at a disadvantage in terms of working for legal status.

“People believe that the immigration system is more available than it is to all kinds of people,” Cummings said. “But in reality, if you enter the United States without documentation, or you are undocumented, there is often absolutely no way to get your green card.”


When asked what PSU students could do to make him feel more welcome on campus, Al-Doami said, “They do not need to do anything more. They already did the best they can do. I have received many emails, phone texts, [Facebook messages] and comments from American friends, classmates and professors who tried to show their great respect to me, my religion, my country. So, what do I need more than this respect and sympathy?”

Daomi continued, “Well, I need from them one thing, which is all of us should be proud of being a part of the PSU community. We need to keep working on it, hand by hand, and sustaining it. PSU community represents your high-level morals.”

“[T]he fact that we declared a sanctuary campus, in my view, would contribute to making everybody feel the university will do what it can to support groups that might be disadvantaged under the new administration,” Wiewel said, speaking on the symbolic importance of the declaration.

“The substantive piece was largely things that were already in place,” Wiewel continued. “That is not even due to my statement. State law prohibits campus public safety officers from enforcing federal immigration law. It’s state law, not just my edict.”

“If a legal authority shows up with a subpoena and demands information about a particular person, they have gotten that subpoena because there is a reason to suspect that person of something,” Wiewel said. “Then we have to comply. And in a case like that, in my view, any sane person would say ‘of course you need to comply.’”

The reality of a sanctuary campus is that its future is unknown. Executive orders could go further to restrict or remove international or immigrant students. Federal funding could be cut and PSU students, BOT and Wiewel could decide that the damage of funding cuts are too large for students to carry, larger than the future of the many students on campus such as Al-Daomi. The PSU community also has the opportunity to show unity in opposition to divisive federal actions.