Lawmakers split on establishing SUNY and CUNY ‘sanctuary campuses’



A Queens assemblyman is pushing for the state’s public colleges to adopt policies that would protect undocumented students before president-elect Donald Trump takes office. But a western New York senator is warning SUNY administrators that such a “reckless” move could jeopardize federal aid for students in New York.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya is calling on all SUNY and CUNY schools to become sanctuary campuses in order to protect the students from what he calls the “the looming Trump administration’s plans to effect mass deportation” and undo President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Similar to how cities throughout the U.S. have become “sanctuary cities,” prohibiting cooperation with federal authorities who are attempting to deport undocumented immigrants within the city’s jurisdiction, Moya said universities can, and should, also protect undocumented students by prohibiting cooperation or sharing confidential information, such as a student’s home address, with federal agencies, including U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

Moya’s call comes as students and staff at several SUNY schools circulate petitions in an attempt to create sanctuaries for undocumented students in preparation for the likely repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which was implemented via executive order in 2012.


“A student should never be afraid to pursue a higher education out of fear that it may leave them vulnerable to deportation,” said Moya, D-Queens. “To allow an atmosphere in which students are hesitant to enroll in a university or attend their classes contradicts our values as a state of immigrants, it undermines the integrity of our academic bodies.”

President Barack Obama implemented a policy in June 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

To be eligible, immigrants must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and be currently enrolled in school, a high school graduate or honorably discharged from the military. To maintain protections they cannot have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or otherwise pose a threat to national security. The program does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship.

President-elect Donald trump has said he will repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy after taking office, calling it “one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president.”

Before that happens, Moya is urging SUNY and CUNY schools to adopt official discretion policies and become sanctuary campuses so they can never be compelled to divulge information that could put their own students and staff at risk.

“Sanctuary campuses are a very powerful metaphor that expresses both legal protections and reprieve from danger,” the assemblyman said. “A student’s immigration status should never be an obstacle in their path to a degree and a better life.”

Moya is calling on the SUNY and CUNY boards of trustees to codify measures that would prohibit all employees of the university system, including faculty, administrators and campus security, from assisting any federal authorities in the act of deporting undocumented students.

The SUNY Student Assembly has issued a statement on the controversial topic without taking a hard stance either for or against sanctuary campuses.

“We are aware that there are various petitions circulating across several campuses on this issue. We support and encourage students to make their voices heard. We stand squarely in the corner of students,” the statement reads. “We also pledge to continue working with SUNY leadership to maintain these ideals as they are the bedrock upon which our system was founded. This is not a border, or a port of entry, or a crime scene; it is a university.”]

The SUNY system has not issued a statement on the campus-level movement to create sanctuary campuses.

Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, sent a letter to SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall on December 12 expressing his concern over the movement at private and public colleges in New York to establish sanctuary campuses.

“I urge the SUNY Board of Trustees to reject such a reckless policy and consider the potentially devastating long-term ramifications for our colleges and students,” Ortt writes in the letter.

Sen. Robert Ortt

The senator notes that “such blatant disregard of federal law” could jeopardize billions of dollars in federal aid, adding that the majority of students rely on some form of federal aid to help pay for college.

“Additionally, I worry about the message this would send to college students,” Ortt continues. “This policy would tell students, in their formative years, that their college and their state condones violating the law.”