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Avoiding the ‘S’ word: Brooklyn College vows to protect undocumented students — but won’t say ‘sanctuary’ - Brooklyn Paper

Avoiding the ‘S’ word: Brooklyn College vows to protect undocumented students — but won’t say ‘sanctuary’

Supporting their students: Professors Carolina Bank Munoz and Alan Aja helped write a resolution to make Brooklyn College a Sanctuary Campus, which would mean the school could legally protect undocumented immigrants from Trump.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

Brooklyn College has joined dozens of other universities across the country in vowing to protect students at the school who are living in the country without legal permission from the clutches of a new federal government hellbent on deporting them.

Just don’t call it a “sanctuary campus.”

That was the message sent by the City University of New York chancellor James Milliken in a carefully worded statement that avoided the contentious term, but still pledged to protect the thousands of immigrant students on city campuses.

The Midwood school garnered 400 signatures from faculty, students, and staff demanding the college declare itself and the entire university system a sanctuary, and the about 100-person faculty council voted 80–5 two weeks ago to support a resolution demanding sanctuary status be declared by the Chancellor.

Milliken responded this week that CUNY will “take any steps available under the law to protect and support its undocumented students” in a letter that also promises the university will not turn over student information to immigration enforcement authorities and will stop immigration authorities from coming on campuses without a court order.

But it falls short of declaring sanctuary status, which has upset some on the board.

“It’s good, but it’s also not enough, there’s always room for more growth. This is a tremendous start in that the Chancellor is acknowledging the need for a sanctuary status, and whether or not he uses the term is less important relative to what the institution does to protect immigrant students,” said Alan Aja, associate professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College. “I would prefer he use it given its meaning, given its history.”

President-elect Trump has already pledged to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities. As such, leaders of public universities such as Brooklyn College — which are funded by the city, state, and federal government rather than private endowments and tuition — may fear losing much-needed cash by coming out as sanctuaries, said Carolina Bank Munoz, a professor of sociology and head of the department.

“That word has become a loaded word and I think that there’s fear that if colleges are calling themselves sanctuaries, Trump could say, ‘Well all sanctuary colleges won’t get funding,’ ” she said. “We don’t know because we don’t know what Trump is going to do, and certainly he can’t just wave a hand and make it all go away.”

The City University of New York did not respond to requests for comment about its risk of losing funding.

But the fact students will be protected is all that mattered to Munoz.

“I don’t care what it’s called as long as at the end of the day we’re protecting students,” said Munoz.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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