The president of the University of Connecticut announced policies to protect undocumented students in a statement to the university community Tuesday afternoon, following weeks of student activism and calls for UConn to become a “sanctuary city” for undocumented students.
“UConn is doing those things which are the essential elements of the sanctuary policies that have been adopted in several large U.S. cities,” UConn President Susan Herbst wrote in an email. “Those elements include: law enforcement policies that do not question the immigration status of those who seek police assistance, law enforcement not detaining individuals based on civil immigration holds, confidentiality of records that include immigration status, and the issuance of photographic identification to facilitate access to services.”
Student activists began calling for UConn to declare itself a sanctuary city (one that would not prosecute people solely for violating federal immigration laws) at a “Rally for the People” the day after Donald Trump was elected president on a platform that called for widespread deportation.
Undergraduate Student Government, the University Senate and UConn’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors have each put out statements in support of UConn becoming a sanctuary city in the past week.
Herbst’s email stated the University of Connecticut Police Department will not inquire about one’s immigration status during questioning, that any information regarding immigration status in their records will remain confidential unless disclosure is compelled by law and that they will not detain anyone based on the belief they are in the country illegally.
The announcement also states that UCPD will not make arrests based on administrative warrants issued by Immigration & Customs Enforcement or other agencies calling for the removal of individuals.
Farzana Zubair, an organizer for UConn’s “Rally for the People” and seventh-semester human development and family studies major, said her group wants UCPD to state that they will not work with ICE detainers.
“The UConn police department needs to clarify that they aren’t going to honor ICE detainers,” Zubair said, “They’re not going to hold an undocumented student in jail longer than necessary by the demands of ICE.”
The email said the university does not keep information about one’s status as an undocumented student and that the university will not create a registry of undocumented students.
“UConn could not and would not provide that information to others,” the email said.
The email went on to say that UConn will continue to admit academically qualified students regardless of immigration status and that undocumented students will be charged in-state tuition.
The email guarantees undocumented students’ access to healthcare treatment on campus, their FERPA rights and all other campus services.
Zubair said she is generally pleased with the statement.
“There are, of course, certain things we want to elaborate upon and have a discourse about, but overall we had a pretty positive viewpoint of the email,” Zubair said.
Herbst wrote that UConn would assist any student who may be removed from the country transition.
“UConn would take all reasonable steps within its authority to ease the student’s transition,” the email said.
Zubair said she hopes the university will turn this statement into a formal piece of legislation.
“By demanding that plan and making it public, it solidifies it, it doesn’t give them wiggle room,” Zubair said.
The email stated UConn doesn’t have the authority to officially designate itself as a sanctuary campus.
“Because of the limits on the university’s authority, designating our campuses as ‘sanctuaries’ may be misleading to the very students we are seeking to support,” Herbst wrote.
The email said that while UConn is not officially a sanctuary campus, many of its policies are in line with those of a sanctuary city.
“Whether UConn designates itself a “sanctuary campus” or not, we are already functioning as one in important ways,” Stephanie Reitz, UConn’s spokesperson, said.
Zubair says that the University’s inability to take on the label of a sanctuary campus is not a point of contention.
“As long as the laws and the policies are still there, we don’t necessarily need the name,” Zubair said.
Zubair said she hopes the email will lead to formalized legal action to solidify the polices it outlined.
“We just want the email to turn into legal documentation,” Zubair said.
Zubair said she and other student organizers will continue to work with the administration in hopes of achieving this goal.
Several of the organizers from “Rally for the People” will be meeting with the Board of Trustees on Wednesday where they will be presenting a petition signed by more than 800 members of the UConn faculty showing their support for the students’ demands.
Zubair said she is hopeful the university will translate the sentiments expressed in the email into formal policies.
“I’m personally hopeful,” Zubair said, “It’s been going pretty fast and it’s been going pretty smoothly and they’ve been responding, it’s not like we’re talking to a wall.”
Zubair said the university’s response to students’ demands demonstrates the power students have on campus to affect change.
“Students don’t have to sit there and be afraid, there’s always a way for us to fight,” Zubair said.