Joining a growing movement across the country and reacting to local pressure, President Ray commits to protecting students
On Nov. 21, President Ed Ray joined a nationwide effort by officially declaring Oregon State University as a sanctuary university. Ray and the OSU administration vowed to protect information regarding students’ background and immigration status.
“What we made very clear was we have no intention of doing anything that we’re not compelled to do, either by warrants or court orders, to help with the enforcement of immigration background checks. We are here first and foremost to protect students,” Ray said.
Since the presidential election, 28 other universities across the U.S. have made similar declarations. This movement is in response to the campaign promise of President-Elect Donald Trump to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
OSU’s declaration was in response to a walk in protest which took place on campus Nov. 16. Over 100 students marched to Ray’s office, demanding he make OSU a sanctuary university.
“It was a day where campuses across the nation were choosing to engage in this activity of doing a peaceful protest where folks walk out of class and walk around campus chanting, but not acting in a violent manner,” Rachel Grisham, president of Associated Students of Oregon State University said. “Most of the Pac-12 campuses were doing it at the same time we were. There was some coordination to try to create national rumble or more increased awareness about sanctuary universities.”
According to Ray, OSU is already sanctuary university due to the fact that Oregon is a sanctuary state. In 2007, Oregon passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which provides temporary lawful presence to immigrant youth, typically under the age of 16. With the passing of DACA, the state of Oregon declared itself a sanctuary state, although that status has received little attention until recently.
“There’s been a lot of scrambling in the last week to find out what it means to make such a declaration as a sanctuary university and sanctuary state,” Ray said. “We’re clearer now, and it means that we don’t simply cooperate because the immigration service, for example, wants information about people that could determine if people are here legally or not.”
According to OSU Vice President for University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark, Ray’s email declaration as a sanctuary university worked to establish exactly what roles the university plays in relation to federal law.
“We are saying in light of concerns that individuals who attend the university may have, as far as concerns over their status as a student as an immigrant, that it was important for us to confirm for them what our policies are and what our roles are and how we would comply with federal policies that are laws,” Clark said.
Since the declaration Ray has received criticism about the possibility of OSU losing its federal funding due to its sanctuary status. However, Ray said that OSU is in no such danger.
“This business about losing federal funding is stupid stuff,” Ray said. “There is nothing in law that says we have to comply with requests for information about potentially undocumented people, or our federal funds are at risk.
“Courts have ruled that we can have that kind of sanctuary status,” Ray added. “We’re not cooperating with the enforcement of immigration actions, and it’s within the law. We’re not breaking the law, but we are doing the maximum amount we can to protect students, and to help them protect their families.”
Clark reiterated OSU’s role within federal laws.
“The university does not enforce federal laws, we comply with federal laws,” Clark said. “Folks don’t understand that this is an educational institution that doesn’t enforce laws such as immigration, it complies with federal laws.”
Although the declaration has already been made, Ray still senses concern and apprehension among students. On Nov. 21, Ray met with students and community members in a town hall meeting to discuss the declaration. Students voiced their opinions concerning the campus climate.
“Students spoke about the climate, and not just that there are people who are personally concerned about their situations or their families’ situations,” Ray said.
Weam Elsheikh, communication representative for the Ettihad Cultural Center, was one of the students who met with Ray during the town hall meeting following the declaration. Elsheikh took comfort in Ray’s declaration, but is still looking toward the next steps.
“President Ray declaring OSU is a sanctuary campus, it was a little bit of comfort for me. It was like, OK, good, that’s something, but that’s not all of it,” Eslheik said. “I feel like that’s how other students feel, like OK, good, then what?”
However, the current state of America concerns Elsheik.
“The fact that OSU is a sanctuary campus, or even Oregon being a sanctuary state, doesn’t hide the fact that three quarters of Americans still wanted that President-Elect,” Eslheik added. “Racism is still rooted very deeply in Oregon’s history on its own, and some students are definitely thinking that is not enough. They really want more.”
Elsheik is an international student who is studying on a student visa. Although Elsheik does not feel directly affected by the results of the presidential election, she feels the negative climate concerning Muslims indirectly impacts her.
“That’s how it’s indirectly affecting me because of all the hate that’s going on around Muslims and islamophobia, and our representation being a threat to ourselves,” Elsheikh said. “And that alone is the scary bit because I shouldn’t be scared to be who I am. I shouldn’t be scared to practice my own religion freely and openly in front everyone, especially that it does no harm to the people around me.”
Another main concern for Elsheik is the uncertainty of what possible actions could be taken in the upcoming months.
“It’s not knowing about what is going to happen that is scary,” Elsheik said. “I wish I could answer that, but I’m not able to unfortunately.”
Roa’a Albish, peer facilitator and event ambassador for the Ettihad Cultural Center, shares in Elsheik’s concern for the unknown.
“You don’t know what aspect of your life, being here as an international student legally and studying in the United States, what it will do,” Albish said. “I’m a Muslim and I’m not ashamed of that, but it does affect me somehow—I’m not sure how. It’s the unknown, and not being sure about things is what scares us.”
Ray understands the uncertainty felt among students, and believes declaring OSU as a sanctuary university is a profound step until more information regarding the new presidential administration comes to light.
“At this point, until we know more about what it is we’re dealing with, it’s hard to know what else would be productive,” Ray said. “We are not looking away from what’s being suggested could happen. We’re going to stay on top of it. If there are meaningful actions we can take, we will do so as quickly as we possibly can, and try to give people assurances that we need to see what it is that we are ultimately dealing with, not what we are afraid we are dealing with.”
Although OSU will not take more action until further presidential administration information is revealed, Ray has received positive feedback from the community since the declaration. Marta Maldonado, associate professor of Latino and ethnic studies, believes the declaration is a step in the right direction.
“I am really glad that President Ray has joined basically the nationwide voices of so many institutions across the country who have declared sanctuary status,” Maldonado said. “I think it’s really important for students in our community and for the community overall to have a sense of safety, that the university is basically supporting them, supporting their inclusion. That they feel safe doing everyday work.”
Along with Maldonado, Vice Provost of International Programs Mark Hoffman felt the declaration is working to unify the community.
“It was an important step for our campus to send a message to the rest of our community that we are supportive of them,” Hoffman said. “It was nice that we were able to come along with other institutions in our state to share a common message and a common goal.”
Although the declaration has already been made, Ray encouraged students to stay vigilant by reaching out toward one another.
“I hope in this time of uncertainty people will make an extra effort to be supportive of each other—take the time to listen if that’s what needed, give someone a hug who needs a hug, let them know that you understand what their concerns are and you want to be as supportive as you can.”
Albish shares in Ray’s call for solidarity in the upcoming months.
“Just unite,” Albish said. “Unite, treat each other equally and don’t discriminate. We’re all here for a short period of time; you never know when your time on earth is ending, so why are we discriminating against one another; why are we making it hard for one another? It just doesn’t make sense.”
According to Ray, trials and hardships will not break the community.
“We are a community, and we get tested all the time,” Ray said. “We need to constantly be willing to come back, to have difficult conversation and dialogue and try to demonstrate that at the end of the day we care about each other and we support each other.”