Five faculty members at USC sent out a petition Sunday to the university president, provost and president of student affairs requesting they make the campus a sanctuary for students and employees living in the country without legal permission.
A sanctuary is a place that follows certain policies to protect those who have entered the country illegally. While no legal definition exists, cities all over the U.S. have declared themselves as sanctuaries to shelter their residents who have been living without valid visas. Broadly speaking, sanctuary city "policies" do not allow local law enforcement agencies to turn over people who are not U.S. citizens to immigration officers if and when they encounter them.
Los Angeles is already a sanctuary city, and the petition, if approved by USC authorities, will add to the effort to make USC and the city a safe space for immigrants and people of color against deportation and hate crimes.
"I want you to know that we are proud to be a community of students, faculty and staff from a variety of diverse backgrounds. It enriches USC in countless important ways," said USC Provost Michael Quick in an email. "We will continue to be guided by our Principles of Community, which affirms USC as a safe and compassionate place representing a rich diversity of beliefs, identities and experiences. To that end, I want to assure the USC community that we will continue to uphold current law and university policies. We will consider any future changes with our community's best interests at the forefront."
The petitioners are George Sanchez, Jody Agius Vallejo, Manuel Pastor, Oliver Mayer and William N. Vela. None of them responded to Annenberg Media's request for comment.
The petition referenced the students' and employees' fear of President-elect Donald Trump's threats to deport those residing in the country without legal permission and abolish the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program that provides relief from deportation for youth who have been long-term residents of the U.S.
Trump consistently made deportation threats during his campaign, saying he would like to build a wall along a part of the southern border with Mexico and form a "special deportation task force" to oust as many as 11 million immigrants who are living in the U.S. without authorization.
However, in an interview Sunday with CBS News, he rephrased his stance on immigration issues: "What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate."
USC student Natalie Reyes, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and did not have legal status until recently, wondered what constituted "serious" criminal records.
"That could mean anyone who has been pulled over for not putting their blinker on or someone who has a minor infraction — for that would they qualify to be deported?" she said.
According to Professor Niels Frenzen, director of the Immigration Clinic at USC Gould School of Law, the university might put federal funding at risk if it accepted the terms of the petition.
"USC receives millions of dollars in federal grants and that is a mechanism by which the federal government has a hold over a variety of areas. One way they have been able to impose restrictions and control activities at the university level is by threatening to withhold research grants," he said.
He also pointed out that deporting millions of people is unlikely because of constitutional protections that non-citizens facing imminent deportation have.
"They have to be brought in front of an immigration judge, the government has to prove that the person is not a U.S. citizen, they have to be given the opportunity to hire a lawyer and have the lawyer represent them in the deportation proceedings, including trying to find out if there is any legal relief," Frenzen said.
Immigration deportation proceedings are not criminal proceedings, so the person facing imminent deportation does not have the right to a public defender but can get a private lawyer from organizations like the USC Immigration Clinic or Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
The petition has already been signed by more than 2,300 people, and the numbers are increasing.
"I'm just fearful of what he might do to everyone who doesn't look like me, who isn't just a white male," said Brian Marks, a graduate student at USC who signed the petition. "I signed the petition out of solidarity with these people."
Reyes hopes that the administration is cognizant of the potential threats that immigrant students and employees might face.
"USC uses its diversity to promote itself in so many ways to get funding, to showcase how great its students are, but if at the end of the day, if they cannot take an extra step to back up what they say by securing the safety of their students on campus, then that's something they need to reevaluate," she said.
This story was updated with a comment from USC Provost Michael Quick.