Tuesday, May 23

Abhishek Shetty: USAC candidates’ sanctuary campus platforms are infeasible

Harishwer Balasubramani/Illustrations director

Harishwer Balasubramani/Illustrations director

This post was updated on April 25 at 4 p.m.

The year is 2018. America is a dumpster fire. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has expanded into an unimaginably large and unchecked network, almost like a secret police. And when the Bruin community needs a hero, undergraduate student government officers emerge, armed with meaningless symbolism.

And in 2017, two candidates running for general representative seats in the 2017 Undergraduate Students Association Council election, Nicole Corona Diaz and Gustavo Gonzalez-Ramos, and one candidate running for Academics Affairs commissioner, Divya Sharma, are embracing such symbolism by calling for UCLA to designate itself a “sanctuary campus.”

The term has popped up in schools across the nation. It generally means the respective campus protects undocumented students. What exactly this protection looks like can vary, but the words themselves carry little substance in the face of a federal law enforcement agency like ICE.

The idea of simply designating UCLA a sanctuary campus, with respect to the school’s current policies and conditions, is an ill-thought-out platform from these candidates. Many of the items they call for are either unfeasible or already in place. These candidates should instead pursue other avenues in their platforms to help undocumented students on campus, such as educating students on their rights – a more realistic and effective way of achieving their goals.

Gonzalez-Ramos and Corona Diaz, who are running with the issue-based Defend Affirmative Action Party slate, have very similar platforms, which include establishing some form of a sanctuary campus.

Corona Diaz has a specific, though unrealistic, idea of what she wants that to look like. While she acknowledged that a sanctuary campus designation shouldn’t be an empty statement, her plan wasn’t too feasible. It includes declaring a building on campus a safe space that ICE can’t access. She offered Ackerman Union as an example, but the building – and almost every other building on UCLA’s public campus, for that matter – is open to the general public during working hours, which means ICE agents can legally enter.

Given these circumstances, you would be probably safer within your own rooms or apartments, negating the need for any kind of demarcation anywhere on campus.

Sharma is also running on a sanctuary campus advocacy platform, part of which is based on a list of 15 demands the Student Labor Advocacy Project of UCLA presented in March. Its demands include a few items regarding immigration enforcement, but also several demands that go on peculiar tangents: One asks for aggressive enforcement “prohibiting hate” that borders upon the unconstitutional. Another demand includes divesting from companies profiting from “Israel’s human rights abuses,” though Sharma said he does not support that demand and its link to protecting undocumented students is unclear.

The list also calls on the University of California to keep students’ information confidential, which is something the University already does. The most realistic demand from the Student Labor Advocacy Project is that the UCPD and the University shouldn’t collaborate with ICE. In its most basic sense, this is what being a “sanctuary campus” means.

However, the UC has already established that no campus police department will collaborate with ICE or other law enforcement agencies when it comes to detaining individuals based on immigration status. As such, the most realistic demand of sanctuary campus advocates – and USAC candidates – is already in place.

Moreover, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang told the Daily Bruin Editorial Board that “using a label that has no fixed meaning, no special legal meaning” means very little. Chancellor Gene Block said he doesn’t think the term “sanctuary campus” means any more than what the UC has already provided. These statements match with Sharma’s accounts of how administrators, for good reason, are apprehensive about creating a so-called sanctuary campus.

As such, advocating for a sanctuary campus is a dead end. But there are better ways these candidates can help undocumented students, and they’ve already outlined them in their platforms. Gonzalez-Ramos and Corona Diaz want to build a community defense network that will aid undocumented students. Corona Diaz also mentioned educating students on their legal rights and how to respond in case of an ICE raid.

Such education would be feasible and worthwhile. These are the avenues candidates should solely focus on, rather than hold onto the hope of having the campus designated a vague term that carries little legal weight. Most importantly, candidates need to take a hard look at any proposal to determine whether its aims are feasible or impactful.

Some would argue that a sanctuary campus designation is necessary to protect the University’s undocumented students. And while deportation numbers have remained stable from previous years, there’s a good chance that there might be an uptick in the future.

However, with respect to the UC’s current policies, there’s almost nothing more that a sanctuary campus platform can feasibly achieve. If USAC candidates want to take a stand, concrete and feasible platforms are the way to go. Clear and tangible should be the blueprint for these candidates, and any future USAC officer who wants to do something to help undocumented immigrants.

Otherwise, they might be in for a rude surprise when it turns out that ICE agents don’t care about idealistic concepts students term their campus.

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Abhishek Shetty is a Daily Bruin opinion columnist. He writes about a variety of issues, but focuses on USAC and administration.

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