BU Will Not Share Info on Undocumented Students

Will obey a court order, cannot bar immigration officials from campus

Dr. Robert A. Brown, President, Boston University, BU

More than 2,000 members of the BU community asked the University to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented students. Photo (left) by Kalman Zabarsky.

Boston University will not share information about any undocumented students with immigration authorities unless those authorities have a subpoena or a warrant, President Robert A. Brown announced in a letter to the BU community Monday. Brown noted that it is not possible to bar federal immigration officials from entering campus, “as the University must obey the applicable state and federal laws.”

The president’s announcement followed a petition from students, staff, and alumni, signed by more than 2,000 people, asking BU to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented students. Similar efforts have emerged on campuses nationwide after president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Obama’s program of protecting from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“It is our long-standing practice that we do not solicit or record information about the immigration status of our students,” Brown wrote, “with the exception of information we are required to maintain on international students who study here on student or exchange visas. To date, we have not been asked by any public authorities to provide information about students who might be undocumented. And going forward, we will not share information about such students unless we are specifically required to do so because of a duly issued warrant or subpoena. If students self-identify to the University as undocumented, we will provide advice and counsel as appropriate and on a case-by-case basis. We will not volunteer information about such students.

“Those calling for the University to become a ‘sanctuary campus’ have asked that we bar representatives of federal agencies…from entering any part of our campus and from enforcing federal immigration law on our campus. This is not a promise we can make. . . I can, however, assure you that the Boston University Police Department does not currently play any role in the enforcement of such laws and will not voluntarily assist the federal government in immigration enforcement. To the extent that our police become aware of such enforcement activities on our campus, they will require a judicially sanctioned warrant before allowing access to any University building.”

Last month, Brown cosigned an open letter from more than 200 higher education leaders across the country asking government officials to leave DACA unaltered. During his campaign, Trump criticized as unconstitutional the Obama administration program that grants temporary permission to live and work in the country to 700,000 young people whose parents brought then here illegally as children. He recently relaxed, without reversing, his rhetoric about deporting those people.

If DACA is ended or curbed, Brown wrote in his letter, BU will continue to provide support to affected students “as is consistent with the definitions of the DACA statute.” He said the University’s International Students & Scholars office can advise students who have concerns about their status.

“We’re happy to see the administration is acknowledging the concerns we have. We’ll look forward to continuing the dialogue,” says Marwa Sayed (CAS’17, SPH’18), an organizer of the petition. “We feel this is actually the beginning of the conversation.”

“Sanctuary campus” is not a defined term in US law, Sayed says, adding that petition organizers were not aware that the BUPD does not assist immigration officials without a court order. She and other organizers will talk to peers at other campuses, she says, and decide how to proceed next semester.

Another organizer, Kimberly Barzola (CAS’17), says students behind the petition might seek a meeting with Brown to discuss their concerns and others that weren’t listed in the petition, such as financial aid and administrative support for undocumented students. “I’m really happy that there was a response” from Brown, she says. “What I think we were looking for is a more formal invitation to speak to the president. . . Ideally, we would like to have a conversation.”

The BU petition, endorsed by the Student Government, reads in part, “Boston University has a rich and storied history of inclusivity and diversity, a history which we wish to honor and carry forward.” It cited Brown’s November postelection letter to the community calling for respect for all genders, races, religions, and places of origin.

“As we navigate the particular challenges posed by possible legal and regulatory changes,” Brown wrote in his latest letter, “this commitment will be our North Star.”

Author, Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.