Thousands of students at Notre Dame have come together to urge school president Father John Jenkins to declare the university a “sanctuary campus.”
Around 450 students and faculty showed their support for the undocumented during a peaceful walkout on Wednesday, while nearly 4,400 signed a petition saying they want the school to implement a plan protecting undocumented students on campus.
Similar walkouts have been held at more than 130 colleges across the country following Donald Trump’s election win, with students demanding their campuses create policies to protect undocumented students from deportation.
During his campaign Donald Trump vowed to repeal President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive action that provides a work permit and deportation reprieve to young people who were brought to the United States as children and stayed illegal.
According to a June 2016 federal government report, there are at least 720,000 recipients of DACA status
Undocumented Mexican immigrant Leslie Vergara, a 19-year-old sophomore at the school, estimated that she’s among about 40 undocumented students on campus.
"My whole future is up in the air," she told the South Bend Tribune.
Vergara was part of a group of student leaders who walked up the steps of Main Building, known for its Golden Dome, to hand-deliver the petition to the office of the Rev. John I. Jenkins.
During an interfaith prayer service on Monday, Jenkins had said the university will "spare no effort" to support undocumented students and that "we will do everything we can to ensure that you complete your education at Notre Dame.” However, it is unclear at this time whether he will declare the campus a sanctuary.
Paul Browne, Notre Dame vice president for public affairs and communications, said that the school already has a policy that protects undocumented students, and that names of undocumented students would not be handed over at the request of local, state or federal authorities unless a crime were committed.
"Notre Dame police will not report the existence of undocumented students to authorities and never does," Browne said. "We don't seek to determine the immigration status for authorities we come into contact with, whether it's for an arrest or investigation."
He added that the term campus sanctuary "means different things to different people." The school might decide not to "put a term on something that has a widely different meaning to some people than others," he said, and Jenkins "is not adopting the semantics of protest, but saying what we're doing in a concrete way."
Luis Ricardo Fraga, who is the co-director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, said Jenkins will have to decide "whether he wants to be part of a broad national effort to publicly declare the university a sanctuary. There's every reason to believe he's in support of that ... Our students have asked him to do it."
The students believe it's important for the university president to do so.
Said Vergara,”They need to stand in solidarity with other universities so that individuals like myself can feel safe ... It's about explicitly standing up for Catholic values that Notre Dame stands for.”
"Hundreds of thousands of recipients of DACA in this country are getting an education and don't have criminal records," she said. "We are good citizens and our families pay taxes."
Mexican-American Carla Burgos-Moron, marketing director of the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy of Notre Dame, told South Bend Tribune that "publicly declaring the campus a sanctuary will help DACA students feel a lot more safe."
Undergraduate student Matthew Donohue told WSBT 22: “This is an issue that affects all of us, this is about civil rights and civil liberties. They can be infringed against people of color. Who knows what Mr. Trump will do going forward."