WACO—Several doctoral students in Baylor University’s religion department have initiated a petition asking the school’s administration to declare Baylor a sanctuary campus for refugees, immigrants and international visitors.
The petition, which gained more than 900 signatures in about 48 hours, asks Baylor to “refuse to comply with immigration investigations or deportations to the fullest extent possible, including denying access to university property.”
Executive order ‘incompatible with Baylor’s Christian commitments’
It declares President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration “with their maligning of ‘removable aliens’ and their targeting of Muslim populations, as incompatible with Baylor’s Christian commitments.”
The petition calls on Baylor to “publicly communicate a position of zero tolerance on aggressions relating to immigration status and identify particular spaces on campus where those who feel threatened can seek refuge.”
The petition—addressed to David Garland, interim president; Greg Jones, executive vice president and provost; Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life; and Jeffrey Hamilton, vice provost for global engagement—also asks Baylor’s administration to:
- Guarantee privacy by prohibiting “the collection or release of information regarding the immigration status of Baylor students, scholars and community members by or to any enforcement agency.”
- Create an office for noncitizen students to coordinate and strengthen on-campus services, including access to free legal counsel; increase financial aid for undocumented students; and allocate funds to assist with the financial and legal repercussions of immigration policy changes.
- Take a leading advocacy role among Christian universities and partner with other institutions to “defend the dignity and rights of noncitizens.”
- Advocate publicly for the maintenance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, launched by the Obama Administration in 2012.
- Create a scholarship program for displaced students, giving preference to students from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—nations targeted in Trump’s temporary travel ban.
- Meet with representatives of student groups, faculty and staff to plan the implementation of sanctuary initiatives that will “enable Baylor to fulfill its Christian commitments to hospitality, justice and reconciliation and truth.”
“Baylor’s profession of the Christian faith commits it to the formation of a hospitable, just and truth-telling community, especially for the sake of its most vulnerable members, in whom Christians discern the face of Christ,” the petition states.
“These commitments face a direct challenge from the U.S. president’s recent executive orders barring refugees, targeting travelers from Muslim-majority countries, and expanding the criminalization and deportation powers of U.S. immigration agencies, as well as by his campaign promises to deport millions of migrants and terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“These executive actions are deeply troubling both in themselves and in light of the complex role that the United States has played in the migration of persons from Latin America and the Muslim-majority countries currently affected by the ban.
“Equally concerning is the occurrence of hate crimes and violence against immigrants, persons of Latin American and Middle Eastern origin, and other minority and marginalized persons across the nation and on our own campus. … This pivotal moment can become a time of creative and critical witness for Baylor as a “Christian institution of higher learning.”
Tom Millay, one of the authors of the petition, noted it was “theologically driven,” not politically motivated.
“We have different political opinions, but we all came together in affirming the executive orders are contrary to our Christian heritage,” Millay said.
University responds after executive order
On Jan. 30, Garland—along with Jones, Jackson and Hamilton—sent a letter to students, faculty and staff and posted it online.
“We at Baylor University are committed through our Christian convictions to practices that support hospitality, community, respect and the open exchange of ideas across our world,” the letter said.
Noting the presidential executive order, the letter stated: “While immigration laws are understandably complex and inextricably tied to national security, changes in policies and practices as a result of the executive order may affect members of our Baylor community. We have members of our community from some of these identified countries (in the executive order) and others who have significant ties to them.”
The letter noted staff from Baylor’s Center for Global Engagement made personal contact with affected individuals, and it advised students, faculty or staff from any country specified in the executive order to contact the center before traveling outside the United States.
Subsequently, the Center for Global Engagement held an open meeting Feb. 2 with all international students at Baylor to discuss the executive order and how it might affect them.
On Feb. 6, Garland welcomed Baylor students and scholars from the affected countries to a lunch at Allbritton House, the Baylor president’s home, “to continue the open dialogue and demonstrate our firm commitment to supporting our global Baylor family,” a statement from the university said.
“The Center for Global Engagement and university officials are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to provide personal guidance, support and encouragement for our students, staff and faculty who are impacted directly,” the university statement said.
The American Association of University Professors endorsed the sanctuary campus movement after the presidential election last November and encouraged colleges and universities to adopt sanctuary policies. Nationally, at least eight institutions have declared their campuses as sanctuaries—Portland State University, Reed College, Wesleyan University, Pitzer College, Santa Fe Community College, the University of Pennsylvania, Connecticut College, Drake University and Swarthmore College.
A Jan. 27 presidential executive order suspended visas from seven Muslim-majority nations and indefinitely halted refugee resettlement from Syria. On Feb. 3, a federal judge in Washington suspended parts of the order. The Trump Administration subsequently challenged that ruling before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.