Dominican University declares itself a ‘sanctuary campus’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Saturday, January 28, 2017

Young people gathered at Dominican University in River Forest on Jan. 13, 2012 to learn about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act. Donna Carrol, president of Dominican University says that about 10 percent of its students are likely undocumented. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Dominican University in River Forest has declared itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented students with a resolution passed by the university board of trustees in December.

“We have been vocal about advocating for the rights of undocumented students for years,” said Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University. “One consequence of our mission is that we have a significant representation of undocumented students. It’s very present on our campus. We need to respond for our students in the leadership role we have taken.”

Carroll estimated that about 10 percent of the university’s undergraduates might be undocumented, although the university does not know students’ status unless they voluntarily disclose it.

Colleges and universities across the United States have joined the sanctuary campus movement, while others have issued statements of support for undocumented students without using that term. The statements have come from university presidents and faculty groups; in Dominican’s case, Carroll said, it was important to give the statement the weight of action by the board of trustees.

“There’s a visibility and a gravitas that comes with that,” she said.

The support, she said, is especially important for students who participated in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created by an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012. DACA allows young people who were brought to the United States as children, after passing a background check, to stay in the U.S. and work legally without fear of deportation. However, young people had to identify themselves to the government to qualify.

During his campaign, President Trump said he would end the program, but later moderated that position. What will happen to those who signed up for DACA remains unclear.

“It was important to Dominican to offer a statement of certainty in uncertain times, to try to keep some semblance of a safe space in a time where we don’t know what is going to happen,” Carroll said.

The resolution says that the university, which serves about 3,700 students, will not provide student records, including any that identify immigration status, except as required by law and with formal documentation; and affirms and will advance “to the extent possible” a 2011 ruling holding that law enforcement and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials should enter the campus for law enforcement purposes “only under the most exigent and compelling circumstances.”

It also says the university will “promote access and success, provide financial aid, as possible, and ensure that Dominican University is a welcoming and safe environment for all, regardless of background.”

“This is a moral statement for us more than it is a legal statement,” Carroll said. “It is framed to highlight the laws we have that enable us to protect our students. It’s framed in the mission and values of the institution.”

The resolution was unanimously approved by the board, with one abstention, after a “vigorous” discussion, Carroll said.

Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Bernardine Karge, an immigration attorney and member of Dominican’s board, said the statement flows out of the university’s tradition.

“It’s nothing new in terms of Dominican,” she said. “We come from a tradition founded by Italian immigrants for valued education for women as well as for men. We understand that in light of the Gospel mandate to love your neighbor as you love yourself. We defined ‘sanctuary’ as upholding the law and upholding the rights of our students. We can affirm that all lives matter, black lives matter, immigrant lives matter, and we will stand with our students. By making a public statement, we are standing in solidarity and saying that the rights of immigrants are human rights.”

The presidents of DePaul and Loyola universities both issued statements of support for their undocumented students in the days after the presidential election.

Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider, president of DePaul, sent similar statements to students and to faculty and staff saying, in part, “DePaul has always welcomed students regardless of their citizenship status, and we will keep our commitment to undocumented students who choose this university for their education.” He also offered a list of legal and other resources that could be of help.

Loyola University Chicago President Jo Ann Rooney signed a statement from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities that says, in part, “We see our work of teaching, scholarship and the formation of minds and spirits as a sacred trust.

That trust prompts us to labor for solidarity among all people, and especially with and for the poor and marginalized of our society. That trust calls us to embrace the entire human family, regardless of their immigration status on was founded.”

Rooney also joined the presidents of more than 600 colleges and universities in support of DACA. At a Jan. 24 breakfast, Rooney said Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine has 30 DACA students and its Arrupe College has 80 DACA students.

Saint Xavier University President Laurie Joyner is reviewing the issue and has not yet made a statement, said spokeswoman Karla Thomas.

Carroll said that Dominican’s board of trustees might have been willing to put themselves on the record because of their trust in her and the university’s leadership in advocating for undocumented students, something she has been doing for more than 15 years.

Asked if the Dominican resolution will expose the university to any risk, Carroll said, “I hope so. You risk in the service of what’s of most value as an institution. You don’t do it lightly, and you don’t do it routinely. … It’s a leadership moment for us, on an issue that affects our students. When you take a strong stand, there are people who don’t agree. I have already, and I do expect to help people understand why.”


  • politics
  • immigrant
  • loyola university
  • dominican university
  • arrupe college

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