Students attending the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) demand “sanctuary campus” status, but not everyone at this border college agrees that safe haven polices benefit the vast majority of the enrolled population.
UTRGV student Abraham Diaz Alonso led a march Tuesday to deliver a petition to university President Guy Bailey, pressing him to declare the campus a safe place for illegal immigrant students. The “all-inclusive” UTRGV Change.org petition had more than 1,600 student and faculty signatures. It launched on November 17 after Bailey sent a reassuring letter to the school’s roughly 950 “DREAMer” and “DACAmented” students. The petition notes UTRGV serves more of these students “than any university in the state of Texas.”
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, UTRGV has the highest Hispanic enrollment of all the state’s four-year universities and the UT system 2016 “fast facts” lists UTRGV with nearly 90 percent Hispanic student population.
Student groups such as the Center for Mexican American Studies, Mexican American Studies Program, Center for Bilingual Studies, Muslim Students’ Association, Women Artistically Kollecting Experiencias-Unidas Prosperando (WAKE-UP), Voto Latino, Bilingual Education Student Organization (BESO), and the Minority Affairs Council, of which Diaz Alonso is a member, were listed as the sanctuary campus petitioners.
So was La Unión de Chicanx Hijxs de Aztlan (LUCHA) a group that says it serves “nuestra Raza” (our race), all other cultures, and Chicanismo, a term Los Angeles public television station KCET defined as a philosophy of Mexican American cultural nationalism, part of the Chicano social justice movement. It incorporates the concept of “Aztlan,” a folkloric homeland to a Chicano nation, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), a Hispanic separatist organization.
Last Friday, the 70-member UTRGV faculty senate endorsed the petition, which stipulated university officials would not share any information about the DACA student population with state or federal agencies, if requested. Breitbart Texas reported on a similar Texas State University San Marcos student petition which claimed to stem from President-Elect Donald Trump’s immigration proposals that include building a wall along the U.S. southern border and banning sanctuary cities, the latter, a priority of Texas lawmakers.
The UTRGV petition, though, called for the university to create a staff position to assist present and future DACA recipients plus pool resources within the greater UT system to develop a “center” to support these and other students.
Diaz Alonso publicly nudged Bailey to take a stand on the petition. He told The Monitor: “Either stand with us on the right side of history or against us.”
Diaz Alonso, 23, is a beneficiary of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He pursues a degree in Mexican American studies and plans to attend graduate school, but purportedly fears for his status, also according to The Monitor.
However, the UTRGV president called the petition “unwise” and potentially “counterproductive,” causing more harm to “the very students we are trying to support.” He noted Congress was not signaling any mass deportation and believed the “DREAMers” were safe. School newspaper The Rider reported Bailey said: “Right now we’ve had absolutely no one, either at the state or federal level, give us any indication that there was an interest in deporting these students or harming them.”
Two counter-petitions popped up online. No Sanctuary Status for UTRGV: Save Federal and State Funding, cautioned sanctuary status “would not be the best move.” It addressed potentially harmful financial fallout for students, faculty, and staff reliant on state or federal aid for tuition or grant-funded income bearing positions. This petition pointed out that sanctuary campus status impedes on the degree pathway for 97 percent of UTRGV students. It said only three percent of the enrolled 28,000 are “considered undocumented in the eyes of the government.”
Several people posted comments in support of this petition online. Donna resident Julie Silva wrote: “Because there is no need to become a Sanctuary University. I will not lose my government help for lack of someone’s irresponsibility of conceiving citizenship.”
Nayeli Rodriguez from Edinburg posted: “I’m signing because sometimes we have to be selfish and care about the people that are documented and work hard and look forward for financial aid to help cover 70% of their tuition. To those who are undocumented I’m sorry you cannot come get [sic] come into this country and start demanding things hurting student who are already here. These are some of the prices you pay when you are illegal.”
The other counter-petition to make UTRGV a sanctuary school called the desire to make the campus a refuge well-meaning but the repercussions of this action does not seem “well understood by the students who are mindlessly signing this petition.” It also touched on “what-if” scenarios of state aid cuts if UTRGV adopts sanctuary policies.
Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatened cutting state funding in response to to public state colleges pushing sanctuary campus agendas.
Student Jaime Garcia, vice president of the UTRGV Young Republicans, called the pro-sanctuary campus movement reckless. He said it would defeat the whole purpose of the university which which formed out of a merger between two smaller area UT campuses. This enabled the larger resulting UTRGV to tap into the multi-billion dollar Permanent University Fund, an endowment fueled by the state’s oil and gas revenues.
Garcia told KVEO: “We merged to have access to the same funds.” Garcia noted a “sanctuary campus” designation “would impede us to have access to the funds we merged for to begin with.”
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