Pennsylvania lawmaker seeks to defund sanctuary campuses

Pennsylvania lawmaker seeks to defund sanctuary campuses
Charles Mostoller

A Republican state representative is looking to punish Pennsylvania universities that vow to protect undocumented students by threatening their state funding.

Rep. Jerry Knowles plans to introduce a bill next month that would withhold state funds from colleges and universities that serve as so-called sanctuary campuses. They are schools that refuse to hand over to federal authorities information about students who are undocumented immigrants. These sanctuary campuses — derived from the term “sanctuary cities” — would also refuse to permit federal immigration officials on campus without warrants, a measure the University of Pennsylvania has adopted, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

“Turning a blind eye to illegal conduct for the sake of making some kind of political statement on this nation’s immigration policy endangers the lives of those that the institution should be protecting,” Knowles wrote in a memo to fellow members of the House earlier this month. His district includes parts of Berks, Schuylkill and Carbon counties.

Knowles’ bill reportedly has 26 backers, including some Democrats, but he declined to reveal their names to the Inquirer. For approval from the Republican-controlled Senate, and eventually Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the bill would require approval from at least half of the House’s 203 members.

The University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore, both privately funded institutions, have made open declarations of their sanctuary status.

“Penn is and has always been a’sanctuary’ — a safe place for our students to live and to learn,” the university’s president, AmyGutmann, announced in an email last month to students and faculty. “We assure you that we will continue in all of our efforts to protect and support our community including our undocumented students.”

Andlast week,Swarthmore President Valerie Smith wrote in an email that the Delaware County private college would also protect undocumented students:

“When there is a rising national rhetoric of intolerance and acts of hate that threaten people of color, Muslims,LGBTQindividuals, Jews, women, and immigrants, among others, we affirm our protection of these groups, and we affirm our intention to support all students in their quest to pursue their education without government interference,” Smith wrote to theSwarthmorecommunity.

Temple Unveristy, Penn State and its affiliated campuses, West Chester and other state-funded or partially funded colleges and universities have not taken a position on sanctuary campuses, despite calls on administrators to act.

A petition with more than 900 signatures, including those by Temple alumni, faculty and students, urges President Richard Englertto declare the university a sanctuary campus, and only cooperate with federal immigration officers if they have a warrant.

But even Philadelphia’s sanctuary city status — defended by Mayor Jim Kenney — has opponents. Freshman state Rep. Martina White, a Republican, introduced legislation earlier this year that would prohibit the city’s sanctuary status, and hold the city “liable” for damages to people or property caused by “unauthorized aliens.”

Her measure, HB 1885, passed in the House and was amended in the Senate, but has been tabled until next year.