Forget sanctuary cities: The next heated congressional battle on immigration could be over “sanctuary campuses” — the dozens of colleges and universities that say they will resist any cooperation with federal immigration agents, unless they are forced to by law.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, introduced legislation this month to do just that, saying Congress should strip schools of billions of dollars in federal financial aid unless they start cooperating with authorities.
Mr. Hunter’s legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep a list of sanctuary campuses and send it to the Education Department, which would cancel federal payments for student loans and financial aid, potentially costing schools billions of dollars.
“This effort is not about telling colleges who they can and can’t accept for enrollment, but whatever decision they make will either mean they receive federal money or they don’t — it’s that simple,” Mr. Hunter said.
His bill has the backing of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which said schools that refuse to cooperate with federal agents are putting students’ security at risk.
“Affording public benefits to illegal aliens not only serves as a magnet to future illegal immigration but is a slap in the face to the thousands of disadvantaged Americans and legal immigrant students competing for those same college slots and funding,” FAIR said in a statement.
The University of California system of schools is perhaps the biggest target of the new legislation.
System President Janet Napolitano announced in November that she ordered schools and their police departments not to undertake any efforts to enforce federal immigration laws. That means refusing to disclose any information about students unless ordered by a court.
Her move was aimed squarely at President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to step up deportations.
“We felt it necessary to reaffirm that UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study and live safely and without fear at all UC locations,” Ms. Napolitano said.
Illegal immigrants nationwide are grappling with the looming Trump presidency, unsure of how quickly he will make good on his campaign promises of stiffer enforcement and how deeply he will delve into the unauthorized population.
Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Homeland Security Department, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, said last week that young adult illegal immigrants known as Dreamers would not be high priorities for deportation.
Most illegal immigrants on college campuses are Dreamers. President Obama declared a deportation amnesty for them in 2012, granting them tentative legal status and work permits, which enabled them to obtain driver’s licenses and some taxpayer benefits, including enrolling in public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.
Mr. Trump has said he would rescind the 2012 policy as soon as he takes office — though it’s unclear whether he would also immediately cancel all of the permits already issued by the Obama administration.
Schools are moving to try to counter that as best they can. Arizona State University, for example, is looking to enlist donors to pony up cash to provide scholarships for Dreamers to keep attending at in-state rates.
It’s unclear whether schools would be willing to accept the loss of federal money envisioned in Mr. Hunter’s bill.
Ms. Napolitano’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about how the University of California system would respond.
A number of cities and counties faced with the loss of federal policing money because of their sanctuary policies have said they will accept the penalty to maintain their status.
But schools rely heavily on federal money. FAIR said the federal government spent $128.7 billion in 2015 on student loans and grants — money that would be denied under the Hunter bill.
Mr. Hunter’s legislation specifically carves out an exception for victims of crimes, saying colleges can shield them without being deemed sanctuaries.
The University of California estimates it has about 2,500 illegal immigrant students on its campuses. Under California law, students who attended high school in the state for three years qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges, regardless of their legal status.
More than a dozen other states have similar laws helping illegal immigrant students.
Mr. Hunter’s bill doesn’t prohibit in-state tuition, but it does put colleges on notice saying that kind of perk serves as a magnet for more illegal immigration.