Princeton: We Won’t Be a ‘Sanctuary Campus’

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber sent out a letter expressing his support for President Obama’s policy of not enforcing immigration laws against people who were brought (or kept) in this country illegally as minors. “A wise, humane, and beneficial policy,” he called it, urging President-elect Donald Trump to leave it in place. He adds:

I have received a number of letters and petitions urging Princeton to do all it can to support its undocumented students if DACA is suspended or repealed.  We will do so to the maximum extent that the law allows.  Our efforts will be aided by policies already in place to protect the privacy and safety of every member of the University community.  For example, we do not disclose private information about our students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless we are presented with a subpoena or comparably binding requirement.  We are actively reviewing this policy and other policies and practices to ensure that they fully protect all of our students, faculty, and staff, including our DACA students.  We will also ensure that affected members of our community know where they can turn for guidance and support on matters related to immigration, including to the very knowledgeable staff of the Davis International Center.

Some of the correspondence reaching me has asked Princeton to declare itself a “sanctuary campus.”  Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.

As a constitutional scholar myself, I agree with that judgment and believe that it connects to one of the country’s most basic principles:  its commitment to the rule of law.  That principle deserves special attention in this uncertain and contentious time.  In a country that respects the rule of law, every person and every official, no matter what office he or she may hold, is subject to the law and must respect the rights of others.  Princeton University will invoke that principle in courts and elsewhere to protect the rights of its community and the individuals within it.  But we jeopardize our ability to make those arguments effectively, and may even put our DACA students at greater risk, if we suggest that our campus is beyond the law’s reach.

His letter does not grapple with the questionable authority of the president to set this policy on his own. And as far as I can tell, his stated policy would make the university a “sanctuary campus” if the term is meant to be analogous to “sanctuary cities.” That is, the university will not actively cooperate with the enforcement of federal law in this matter but will not attempt to prevent the federal government from enforcing the law itself. Still, this statement deserves credit for making a distinction between what the administration of the university would like to see and what it thinks the law commands — a distinction that not everyone recognizes and honors.

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