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Mills students advocate for a sanctuary campus to protect undocumented students

Marisa Tangeman
Marisa Tangeman

The Mills community gathered on Holmgren Meadow on Nov. 15 to rally and peacefully protest the presidential election. It also urged the College to claim sanctuary status, which has been discussed in multiple letters sent out to the student body.

Many colleges and universities across the nation have begun to claim sanctuary status in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, as he has promised to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants. Although there is no clear definition of what a sanctuary campus is, many campuses have declared that they will not cooperate with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to protect their undocumented students.

In the days following the rally and protest, Mills students Julie Rivas, Alice Becker and Sarah O’Neal sent an email to Mills students describing what a sanctuary campus would mean, as well as urging students to sign a letter to President Hillman, asking her to help protect undocumented students.

“Making Mills a sanctuary campus would ensure institutional support of undocumented students and that Mills would refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities if the federal government decides to deport millions of undocumented people,” the email said.

On Nov. 21, an email was sent out to students from the President’s Office in response to the movement to make Mills a sanctuary campus.

“We stand in solidarity with the City of Oakland, a sanctuary city, our Oakland Unified School District colleagues, and other colleges and universities across California and the nation in affirming our unequivocal commitment to maintaining a safe and affirming place of opportunity for all vulnerable populations. We will do everything we can to preserve and protect Mills and its people,” the email from the president said.

The administration is working on the process to make Mills a sanctuary campus and protect undocumented students, in light of the recent election. (Marisa Tangeman)
The administration is working on the process to make Mills a sanctuary campus and protect undocumented students, in light of the recent election. (Marisa Tangeman)

Sophomore Andrea Ortiz Galdámez believes that if students continue to pressure the administration, then Mills will take a step in the direction towards protecting its undocumented students, even if that doesn’t mean claiming sanctuary status.

“I think that if we keep pushing and if we keep speaking to President Beth Hillman and her administration then I think something could be achieved,” Ortiz Galdámez said. “Whether or not it’s officially becoming a sanctuary, I think some sort of other official policy could be done.”

Ortiz Galdámez, president of Unión Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios de Mills College (USEU), helped organize the protest at Mills after realizing that no one else was planning one.

“I felt like something had to be done, and I didn’t feel like anyone else was going to step up to do anything,” Ortiz Galdámez said. “I feel like if we don’t take action, then nothing will be done.”

Sophomore Rebeca Montaño, president of the Latinx Student Collective (LSC), also helped organize the protest. The protest focused on the systems of oppression at play in the election, as well as the movement to make Mills a sanctuary.

“‘Make Mills a sanctuary’ is a tangible end goal,” Montaño said. “Yeah, f*** the system, but as college students it’s hard to change the entire system, but making our campus a sanctuary felt like something feasible we could strive for.”

USEU organizers see making Mills a sanctuary as a goal. (Marisa Tangeman)
USEU organizers see making Mills a sanctuary as a goal. (Marisa Tangeman)

Alfredo Del Cid, assistant director of the Social Justice Resource Center, believes that the conversations that students, staff and faculty are having demonstrate that Mills is working to protect its students.

“The conversations that are happening indicate that there is an intention to support our students,” Del Cid said. “Not just saying that we’re supporting them, but actually having policies and systems and processes in place that will have a tangible, positive impact on our students.”

Del Cid believes that the decision to become a sanctuary campus must be carefully considered, and that President Hillman is working on what the best way to support Mills’ students would be.

“The president is really intentional about thinking through every aspect of supporting our students,” Del Cid said. “That’s why we’re taking our time to analyze the legal matters, talk to constituents and talk to other campuses. We’re trying to be intentional about thinking through every aspect of it, so when we say we’re supporting students, we have a comprehensive list of how we’re doing it.”