INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As universities across the U.S. grapple with whether to adopt policies intended to protect students who came to the country without legal permission, Indiana lawmakers are weighing a proposal that would ban the so-called sanctuary campuses.
Nationwide, the pro-sanctuary movement has picked up steam since Donald Trump made a crackdown on unauthorized immigration a central theme of his presidential campaign. Specific demands have varied but many call on college and university officials to limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, out of concerns about the fate of such students under the Trump administration.
In Vice President Mike Pence’s home state, campuses including Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University have faced pressure from students and faculty members, though none have declared themselves a sanctuary campus.
Still, lawmakers who argue “government entities” shouldn’t be able to pick and choose which laws to follow are taking steps to proactively bar institutions who accept federal or state dollars from adopting the designation.
A bill from Republican Sens. Mike Young and Mike Delph stipulates that colleges or universities violating the ban would risk having funds withheld by the state’s budget agency. A court could also block a sanctuary policy if a lawsuit is brought.
“Everyone, whether they’re a government entity, a private institution or an individual — we don’t get to figure out what laws we want to follow and which we don’t,” Young, a Republican from Indianapolis, said on the Senate floor.
The measure ultimately cleared the Senate in a 35-15 vote, with six Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it. It awaits a hearing in a House panel.
States where proposals cracking down on sanctuary campuses have been proposed include Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Arkansas’ version did not advance out of a panel last month.
Indiana previously banned cities and towns from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” but did not include colleges and universities. Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane suggested during the hearing that perhaps the exception for universities was no accident.
“Seems to me that maybe before we thought it best not to get our institutions of higher learning involved in that. Because, after all, they’re in the business of educating our students, not really ratting on them,” he said. “And that’s the bottom line of what we’re going to be asking our universities to do here.”
Some schools that have declined to embrace the sanctuary designation say the label is merely a symbolic gesture, particularly since the term has no widely accepted legal definition. They warn it might prompt action that could otherwise be avoided.
To Dara Marquez, it’s the bill itself that’s the symbolic gesture.
“We believe this bill is essentially just a bone to throw to constituents. It doesn’t accomplish anything or reverse anything,” said the executive board member of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance. “It’s another effort for messaging to be sent to undocumented communities, who already have many barriers — physical or mental — to pursuing higher education.”
At Notre Dame, the faculty senate passed a resolution calling on the university to take action and, more recently, Indiana University student protesters interrupted a speech by the provost with calls for a sanctuary campus in Bloomington.
The measure has been directed to the House Judiciary committee but a hearing date has yet to be scheduled. Young argues the proposal could bring additional safety to campuses and ensure they comply with the law.
“If Homeland Security — federal or state — wanted to check on the immigration status of a particular student, this says that the university would have to cooperate with the authorities, is all,” he said.