College Board Approves Sanctuary Designation
In a unanimous board decision May 9, Columbia Gorge Community College joined the State of Oregon and a growing list of colleges, universities and municipalities adopting sanctuary status over concerns regarding federal immigration policy.
Sanctuary does not change existing college policy, which already offered its students protection through state and federal laws such as the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In enacting Resolution 031417, a “Declaration of Open Access and Protection,” the college board affirmed the institution’s compliance with those laws but also stated its intention to “oppose any change in federal law requiring it to aid the federal government in immigration law enforcement, and, if necessary, ... will seek its own legal counsel in this effort.”
The decision follows two months of public testimony and workshops on the issue.
“I’ve been touched by the testimony of so many people over the past few months,” said board member Stu Watson, who brought the successful motion declaring sanctuary. “Obviously there are concerns, and it’s going to be played out in the courts. Yet at the end of the day it’s up to us to take sides. I believe in providing a safe place for people to live their lives, and if this helps them do that, let’s do this.”
Since the resolution does not change existing policy, college officials do not expect it to threaten federal funding such as Pell Grants, which provided more than $1.34 million in student assistance at CGCC in 2015-16. Nonetheless, the sanctuary movement is working its way through the court system: The Trump administration issued an executive order cutting federal funding to cities declaring themselves as sanctuaries (albeit under terms differing from the college’s declaration). On April 25 a federal judge blocked that order, finding in favor of lawsuits brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.
“They’ll try to cut funding, but it’ll take years to resolve,” predicted board member Dr. James Willcox. “The students have to feel safe. That’s the important thing. I’m all for doing it,” he added.
Watson’s motion was seconded by board member J. Carmen Gamez, who joined the meeting via conference call. Gamez, a son of Mexican immigrants, cited his own experiences as a middle school student in California, describing fears of deportation and discrimination that often confront the immigrant community.
College president Dr. Frank Toda, who initially opposed sanctuary designation over concerns of federal funding cuts, told the board he’d changed his view after testimony and being reminded of his own family’s history as Japanese-Americans. Toda’s parents were interned by the federal government during World War II; the government has since apologized and offered compensation to thousands of Japanese-Americans who suffered humiliation and property loss through the internment policy.
“Sanctuary is more than a word,” Toda said. “It means we are all together, that a step toward sanctuary is a step away from fear.”
The board’s resolution notes that “[while] the term ‘sanctuary college’ has no legal status and does not confer legal protection to students or their families, it nonetheless offers a powerful statement of support to some of our most vulnerable students and their families at this time.”
“CGCC, in accordance with law, will only provide student immigration status to the federal government if it has consent from the student, or if served with a valid subpoena, warrant or court order,” the resolution explains. “CGCC is committed to the safety and privacy of tis students, and as a Sanctuary College bound by The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, it will continue to protect all of its students.”
Tuesday’s decision at the Hood River campus brought applause from a well-attended audience, and takes effect immediately.