“Sanctuary,” Christ and the rule of law

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No one can accurately predict what the various campaign promises of president-elect Donald Trump will look like in the actuality of new laws, regulations and executive orders initiated by his administration. Very predictably, that uncertainty has produced correspondingly great and very real fears in those who feel most vulnerable to what could be sudden and catastrophic life changes.

One such group of frightened people are the students in our public and private colleges and universities studying under the presidential executive order commonly referred to as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Issued in 2012, DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to apply for a two-year program that defers deportation, provides eligibility for a work permit and allows them to attend universities and colleges. The DACA program does not provide a path to citizenship.

Several thousand students in our Central Valley are part of more than 230,000 DACA students in California, and an estimated 700,000 across the nation.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to end DACA on his first day in office. However, in his recent Time magazine Person of the Year interview, Trump indicated he had changed his thinking. Trump said, “We’re going to work something out. On a humanitarian basis, it’s a very tough situation. We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.” Despite such reassurances, various proposals and petitions have been drafted and signed.

One such petition led by a Fresno Pacific University professor is in process and has gathered over 700 signatures. It’s intended to raise awareness and encourage the FPU administration to resist federal actions targeting DACA students. Among other goals, the petition calls for the FPU president to “declare Fresno Pacific a sanctuary campus,” a strategy that has gained attention nationally, despite the fact that the term has no clear meaning and the concept has no basis in law.

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber says his university will protect its undocumented immigrant students “to the maximum extent that the law allows.” We concur, as the rule of law is essential to an orderly society, the kind of society we need in order to do the work God has given us. We must model the principles that we teach, which for us are based in biblical principles that require us to respect the legitimate authority of the government.

Supporting and reassuring our students is the kind of thing a Christ-centered university like Fresno Pacific does every day. But declaring us a “sanctuary campus” would likely actually be counterproductive. According to Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, “designating Harvard as a sanctuary campus might only serve to put undocumented students at greater risk . . . and could put their status in greater jeopardy.” That would not be wise for Fresno Pacific any more than it would be for Harvard.

For the rule of law to effectively protect everyone, it must have limits. If the government seeks to impose laws that contradict core religious beliefs or sincerely and deeply held values, an individual person or an organization such as Fresno Pacific University must carefully but courageously exercise the right and responsibility of civil disobedience. This must be done in a way that seeks to do what is morally right and encourages wise public policy that moves toward true social justice under God with maximum freedom to live wisely and well in healthy community.

As followers of Jesus, we at Fresno Pacific are guided by his two most fundamental and comprehensive teachings. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” We seek to think and act like Christ in everything we do, from basketball to biology. Jesus taught a companion principle. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And in responding to the question, “who is my neighbor?” he told the famous story of the good Samaritan.

To live according to these two principles as a Christ-centered university, we must respond to the needy persons that God presents to us. We do not bring people into our country illegally. Bad public policy and practice have accomplished that. But we are committed to serve those God brings to us, and we support wise public policy that helps us correct the effects of bad public policy in a society in which everyone benefits by respect for the rule of law that promotes liberty and justice for all.

  • Randy White

    I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this piece, and after having read the recent well-researched American Council on Education Leadership and Advocacy letter addressing the issues of immigration post-election, DACA and sanctuary campuses, I am inclined to agree. I appreciate the efforts being made by FPU to identify and act on every reasonable thing that can be done to protect students, and I prefer those substantive actions rather than statements or declarations. If we we want just laws, we must do the long term work of building support for them, working at their passage perhaps while lamenting their absence and mitigating the suffering caused by that.

  • Walter Saul

    Thank you, Richard and Randy, for taking us on a much-needed walk through the maze of legalities and possibilities surrounding DACA students. I appreciate the “middle way” that Fresno Pacific and its fellow institutions, such as Princeton and Harvard, have chosen to love and care for all of our students and prepare them to serve in a world that badly needs their experienced wisdom.

  • Quentin P. Kinnison

    Two thoughts stand out to me. 1) the students we currently consider “documented” are so considered because of DACA, the very provision our President-Elect has stated he will remove (thus rendering them undocumented again). 2) Statements are often meaningful not so much because of who they stand against, but for who they offer to stand with. As a starting point, such a statement to vulnerable communities who feel or perceive a threat is a substantive action starting point especially when such statements are asking powers to consider taking further substantive action. One such statement of support has been made by 70 Catholic University presidents (some of who have joined the 400 University presidents nationwide in promoting “sanctuary” schools). Their statement falls short of calling for “sanctuary” campuses, but does make significant offers of “…to support these students – through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.” While our Administrative leaders may not see it wise to state FPU as a “sanctuary” campus, I would encourage clearer and more direct statement of support with the kinds of tangible supports some of our Catholic brothers & sisters are offering as part of a holistic, life-long, pro-life response. The FPU letter asked for 5 things, the first two of which have been addressed. The remaining three are: “that FPU publicly reaffirm its ongoing and historic commitment to be a place of higher education specifically for undocumented students;” “that FPU expand financial aid and human resources for undocumented students;” and “that FPU take tangible measures toward becoming better informed as a community about issues of immigration and the lives of immigrants including the pursuit of the political and cultural understanding necessary to make our campuses safe and hospitable.” I am sure there are other actions an institution like ours committed to loving our neighbor can take as well. I look forward to our Administration pursuing what we can do, rather than only what we can’t.

  • The “middle way” mentioned by Dr. Saul, is, when referring to indulgences such as extremes of diet, or work, an admirable pursuit. However, when facing humanitarian needs, such as keeping families together, and protecting the underrepresented, I am reminded of a quote by Paulo Freire who said, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

    Further, our own Confession of Faith, article 13, is not in passive, or neutral voice, but encourages us to actively “alleviate suffering, reduce strife, promote justice…”. It seems to me that there is disagreement regarding what is just.