Students from the University of North Texas (UNT), Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and more than 80 schools across the nation took part in walkouts and demonstrations demanding their schools and universities become sanctuary campuses for undocumented immigrants.
The walkouts took place Thursday, Dec. 8. In Denton, about 150 students from UNT and 100 students from TWU marched to the Denton Town Square and protested.
A statement from a prewritten letter to administrators read, “In the wake of the racially charged and divisive election the faculty, staff, and students of University of North Texas have come together to demand that our university take action and declare itself a sanctuary university.”
Motivated by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, students at UNT and TWU started petitions to help protect undocumented immigrant classmates, faculty and staff members from Trump’s promises to deport millions of illegal immigrants.
David Lopez, a senior English major at UNT, helped compose the petition and letter to administrators. He says he did not work alone. He had help from leaders of the Hispanic Student Association, League of United Latin American Citizens and MUEVE, a Hispanic activist group. They all got together before Thanksgiving to move forward with the petition to declare sanctuary campus status.
Lopez is a native of San Benito, Texas. He said that the sanctuary campus movement is important to him because he comes from a family of immigrants and there was a time when they were undocumented.
As of Thursday afternoon, Dec. 1, the UNT petition for sanctuary had over 1200 signatures with another 250 signatures from TWU. Campus officials are taking their time to address the emotions of the protests surrounding the outcome of the elections.
Students believe that the demands align with UNT’s Core Values and Four Bold Goals. According to the petition, “This action will place the University of North Texas in solidarity with institutions of higher education across the nation who have declared themselves a sanctuary campus.”
UNT President Neal Smatresk is encouraging respectful dialogue and understanding among students, faculty and staff on their campuses. He said, “This is how we build an honest, caring and inclusive community.”
He also said that the universiy will not declare itself a sanctuary campus.
For private universities, the concept of a sanctuary campus is easier to institute. Public universities face different challenges because they are on state-owned land.
“A piece of paper should not dictate whether you can stay in a country or not,” said Lopez. “No human being is illegal.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Twitter Thursday that he “will not tolerate sanctuary campuses or cities.”
—Associated Press contributed to this story