The presidents of the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University said their schools “will continue to support undocumented students to the fullest extent of the law,” but they declined to become sanctuary campuses.
The decision, which they said was made “in the best interest of all of our students and the future of our institutions,” was announced Dec. 8 in a letter to the campus communities in St. Joseph and Collegeville.
The letter was signed by Mary Hinton, College of St. Benedict president, and Michael Hemesath, St. John’s University president. It also was signed by the leaders of the two religious communities that founded the schools: Benedictine Sister Michaela Hedican, prioress of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph and Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.
It came in response to a recent petition signed by more than 1,500 students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to make the schools sanctuary campuses for undocumented students who fear potential deportation after President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated into office next month.
“As campus and community leaders we have reflected on your request, and we agree whole-heartedly with the principle at the heart of your concerns: that our Catholic and Benedictine values call us to respect, protect and support all members of our community,” the letter said.
But, it stated, “as higher education institutions we have no legal ability to set ourselves apart from the laws of our state and federal government.” Declaring the schools as sanctuary campuses “could very well put at risk state and federal financial aid support that are essential for the vast majority of our students to pursue their educations.”
The Benedictine sisters, monks and campus communities “have always worked to promote educational opportunities for the most vulnerable among us,” the letter said. “Specifically, throughout our history we have supported first generation students and immigrants regardless of their immigration status.”
The letter added: “We will help prospective students understand the college admissions process, admit those who are academically qualified, provide students with all the institutional financial support and scholarships they are eligible for, offer comprehensive support and mentorship, and protect student privacy as required by federal law.”
Both school presidents have made public their support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under the program initiated through executive order by President Barack Obama, young immigrants brought into the United States by their parents as young children without legal permission are protected from deportation for two-year periods. During his campaign, Trump said he wanted to undo what he called Obama’s “overreaching” executive orders on immigration.
This story contains information from Catholic News Service.