Petition seeks 'sanctuary' status for Bowdoin College

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BRUNSWICK — Following at least 100 colleges and universities across the country, a group of Bowdoin College students are circulating an online petition that would make the college a “sanctuary campus” and protect students at risk of deportation.

The action comes at the same week that Portland announced it would cooperate with federal officials if President-elect Donald Trump follows through with his pledge to immediately deport undocumented immigrants, according to the Bangor Daily News.

“We call on Bowdoin College to stand with other colleges and universities and investigate how to make Bowdoin a sanctuary campus that will protect our current and future students from intimidation, unfair investigation, and deportation,” the petition states.

As of noon on Monday, the petition had received 841 signatures from students, alumni, faculty, board members, and parents. It is addressed to college President Clayton Rose and four other top-ranking Bowdoin officials and deans.

Trump campaigned on the promise to repeal President Obama’s executive orders that provide protections to undocumented immigrants, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a measure that protects undocumented immigrant minors who arrived in the U.S. before age 16.

The letter states that “DACA-mented and undocumented peers are able to remain on campus and focus on their education instead of their fears of being forced to abandon their education and separate from their families.”

DACA provides protections to more than 700,000 students, according to the petition.

The petition enumerates an eight-point list of protections that would establish a sanctuary campus, which includes keeping students’ immigration status confidential, and the college’s refusal to share information or cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The list is similar to characteristics of so-called “sanctuary cities” around the country, an unofficial term to describe cities that provide safe havens to undocumented immigrants, primarily by refraining to prosecute violations of federal immigration laws.

In the days following Trump’s victory, mayors in cities such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles have reaffirmed their commitment to remaining places of sanctuary. But last week, the Bangor Daily News reported that spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Portland is not a sanctuary city, and would comply with federal immigration officials.

A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center estimated there are fewer than 5,000 unauthorized immigrants living in Maine.

The student petition suggests the college has the ability to act independently of neighboring cities and municipalities.

“U.S. Customs Enforcement officers are not able to enter college campuses without authorization. Bowdoin has the power to protect undocumented community members and students from law enforcement,” it states, citing an ICE policy that exempts “sensitive locations” like colleges and places of worship from enforcement actions. 

However, the policy stipulates that “enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided. ICE or CBP officers and agents may conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official, or if the enforcement action involves exigent circumstances.”

Leah Alper, a Bowdoin senior, said the petition is modeled on similar petitions that are circulating on campuses around the country, but that the group has tailored the language to apply specifically to Bowdoin.

While she and a small group of students are coordinating the petition drive, Alper said “the organization that has been the real catalyst for this is Cosecha,” an action-network centered on promoting rights for undocumented immigrants, started by students with undocumented parents.

College spokesman Doug Cook said Friday that the college is aware of the petition, and will carefully review it and prepare an appropriate response once it is formally presented to leadership.

Cook could not comment on whether the college knows of specific students who might be threatened by Trump’s immigration plans, but wrote in an email that “I will emphasize that Bowdoin will continue to support all of our students.”

“Bowdoin will not be swayed from its values,” he added, quoting an email sent by Rose on Nov. 10 in response to the presidential election.

“(Bowdoin must) always reject hate; demand mutual respect, vicinity, and inclusion; encourage freedom of inquiry and expression; inspire a deep commitment to the common good; and ensure unwavering concern and support for one another,” Rose wrote.

Trump has yet to explicitly say he would repeal DACA, although he renewed his pledge to immediately deport undocumented immigrants during an interview with “60 Minutes” on Nov. 13, with a priority of targeting those with criminal records.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or at Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The Bowdoin College chapel.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or