U of Illinois says no to sanctuary status for undocumented immigrant students

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The University of Illinois will not label its three campuses as sanctuaries for immigrant students illegally living in the U.S., school leaders said Tuesday as they pushed aside pressure from faculty and others to make the designation.

Petitions from students and faculty at campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield were among efforts by students and others at more than 100 colleges and universities around the country to make the schools sanctuaries for immigrants following President-elect Donald Trump's promises to crack down on illegal immigration. University of Illinois petitioners sought promises that student records would not be released and the school would not comply with any immigration enforcement action, as well designating someone on campus to help students seek tuition finding and other issues.

But sanctuary status is not well defined as a legal concept and "may actually jeopardize our institution," University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen and the chancellors of the three campuses said in a statement Tuesday .

"However, we will continue to do everything we can within the law to reassure, support and protect our students. Let us be clear . that includes our undocumented students," Killeen and the chancellors said in the statement.

The university receives roughly $733 million annually in federal funding — about 13 percent of its $5.6 billion operating budget — that could be at risk if the university does not comply with immigration law, spokesman Tom Hardy said. But what would happen if there were some kind of federal crackdown on students who are not legal residents of the country isn't clear, he said.

"There's just a lot of unknowns and a lot of speculation. But what we do know is that we don't want to put our institutions and our people at risk of not complying with laws," Hardy said.

Faculty members at the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses who signed petitions said they were disappointed by Tuesday's decision.

"But I think the message also reinforces a commitment to protecting undocumented students, and I think that's the piece we can work with going forward," added Siobhan Somerville, an associate professor of English and gender and women's studies at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Petition drives and marches at campuses around the country followed Trump's pledge to reverse President Barack Obama's executive order granting temporary status to students living in the country illegally. Trump also promised during his campaign to create a "deportation force" and take federal funding away from sanctuary cities.

New Mexico State University decided last week that it would not declare its campus a sanctuary or try to ban federal agents from campus. But other schools have said they will try to protect immigrant students who lack legal status. Columbia University, which is private, plans to offer sanctuary as well as financial support, while the public University of California system says it will not assist federal immigration agents or hand over confidential records without court orders.

The American Council on Education, an advocacy group for colleges and universities, in a paper published this month advised caution regarding "sanctuary campus" plans. The paper noted that the idea of a sanctuary does not have "legal status that is recognized under federal law."

The paper also noted that there had never been a large crackdown on students who are in the country illegally.

The Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago-based advocacy group, estimates that about 1,500 Illinois college students are in the country illegally.