Editor’s Note: We are granting anonymity for a source in this story for the source’s protection.
She was 10 years old and homeless in Mexico with her sisters and mother. Her father found work as a farmhand across the border, and in 1999 he was able to pay for the family to move to Washington. She didn’t choose to come to the United States, but she isn’t ashamed of her story either.
Schools nationwide use sanctuary titles to protect people like this anonymous undocumented Clark student from deportation, but Clark will not use the sanctuary title. The term sanctuary gained popularity without a universal definition, and Clark has no intention of defining the term for itself. College president Bob Knight and Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook said Clark’s existing policies, such as FERPA, make the college a safe enough place, but others believe a sanctuary label is needed.
“I feel it’s in the best interest of the college that we not single out and bring that attention to Clark, just because for some people it might sound good and feel good,” Knight said.
Knight said Clark is one of 34 colleges in the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges that made a joint statement pledging not to adopt a sanctuary title. This was at the recommendation of the attorney general’s office, who decided each college’s policies and procedures sufficiently created a safe place for all students.
Cook said one of the term’s issues is that it “connotes an illegal point” of not allowing or cooperating with immigration authorities that come to Clark.
If a federal authority came to the college with a valid warrant, the college would comply, Cook said. “In that sense I think we stop short of what some of these places are saying, that ‘we would not cooperate at all.’”
Schools have also avoided using the term sanctuary in fear of losing federal funding.
About $40 million of Clark’s federal funding goes toward student financial aid, which may be in jeopardy if the college adopted a sanctuary title, Knight said.
The undocumented student said she questions how she is expected to succeed when the U.S. continues to prevent her ability to “be a positive attribute to society.”
“Society is telling me that, if I’m here that I need to go for the ‘American Dream’; get an education, get documentation, be successful,” the Clark student said, “There [are] always obstacles…we can fight it, like we fought the muslim ban. We can also fight this if the money is going to be taken away from sanctuary colleges.”
Unable to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals due to lack of documentation, she receives free books and tuition from WAFSA.
Unike Knight and Cook, she believes that a sanctuary title is necessary, regardless of the financial aid risk.
Clark web development student Belal Sejouk is an immigrant from Libya that has been waiting two years for refugee status. He said this limbo leaves him unable to apply for financial aid and forces him to borrow money from relatives to pay for school.
Sejouk believes a sanctuary status would be helpful. He said undocumented students like the anonymous source have no life left in their country of origin, no home to return to if deported.
“Students should never have to worry about where they are from or what’s going to happen next to them,” Sejouk said.
Rosalba Pitkin, diversity outreach specialist and an immigrant herself, said she is unsure if sanctuary would be the proper title, but “the most important thing is the service that the college is going to give to all students, no matter what religion, color, culture, or legal status.”
Pitkin said colleges need to be creating an environment of unity, not division.
“I want to let them know that any person, faculty, staff, especifically students, can come and I am going to try and find anything that they need in order to help them,” Pitkin said.