A Pennsylvania lawmaker plans to introduce legislation in January that would withhold state funding from any university that declares itself a "sanctuary campus" and fails to cooperate with authorities seeking undocumented students.
"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," State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Schuylkill) wrote in a Dec. 2 memo to legislators.
Knowles said he had 26 cosponsors, including some Democrats. He declined to name them until the bill is introduced.
He said Tuesday that he wants universities to cooperate with authorities and comply with the law.
His comments come as several local universities that receive state funding, including Temple, Pennsylvania State, and West Chester, are receiving requests from students and faculty that they become "sanctuary campuses," and protect students who were brought to the country illegally as children and now are trying to build a future through education.
Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, both wealthy private institutions, have said they will not allow federal immigration authorities on campus unless they have warrants, and will not share information about undocumented students without a legal order. Their statements followed an announcement by President-elect Donald Trump that he would repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), put in place by President Obama to protect undocumented college students from deportation.
"Penn is and has always been a 'sanctuary,' " president Amy Gutmann wrote in a Nov. 30 statement. Swarthmore president Valerie Smith and board chair Thomas E. Spock followed with a letter on Dec. 2 promising to "provide sanctuary" for undocumented students.
Temple, Penn State, and West Chester have made no such declarations. Neither has the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which includes the state's 14 public universities, including West Chester.
"We're basically taking the position that as a state agency we act in accordance with the law, and that's what we expect our universities will do," said Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the system.
At Temple, about 1,000 students, staff, and faculty and community members have signed a letter to president Richard Englert and provost JoAnne Epps seeking a sanctuary designation, and asking that the university make a statement declaring its intention to protect undocumented students.
The letter, which has been endorsed by Temple's faculty senate, faculty union, and graduate student union, asks that the university not assist in deportations or raids and not permit authorities on campus without a warrant.
"I think it's really important that we make a public statement about how all members of the Temple family have a right to work and study and live without any sort of fear or intimidation," said Jennifer Lee, an assistant clinical professor of law.
The bill Knowles plans would put funding in jeopardy for universities that refuse to allow federal authorities on campus without a warrant, direct campus law enforcement not to communicate or cooperate with those authorities about undocumented individuals, or refuse to share information about undocumented students without a legal order.
If the bill passes, tens of millions of dollars in state funding that Penn receives for its veterinary school could be in danger.
A Penn spokesman declined comment.
Colleges should not require warrants from federal authorities, Knowles said.
"This is just crazy. We are basically thumbing our noses at the taxpayers of Pennsylvania," he said. "The term itself, illegal aliens, they are people who should not be here. They're actually taking the places of American citizens."
Temple student Brexy Pena Mencia, 20, a bioengineering major, wants lawmakers to put themselves in her shoes. Her parents brought her to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 4. She attended high school in the Wilkes-Barre area, graduated near the top of her class, and enrolled at Temple.
"Think about if this was happening to you," she said. "If you were the parents of these children, what would you be thinking? . . . You're educating these students all the way up to high school, and you're dropping the ball when it comes to college?"
Many DACA students are scared, she said, because the government has records on them and knows where to find them. She said she fears she may not be able to finish her education.
"For that to be taken away from me would definitely throw a wrench in my plans," she said.
Temple said in a statement that Englert, among hundreds of other college presidents, signed a statement in support of DACA. The university said it would follow the law but made no reference to sanctuary.
"As a public institution, Temple complies with legal requirements in the maintenance and disclosure of information regarding members of its community," the statement said.
Penn State is preparing a statement in response to a student petition, said spokeswoman Lisa Powers. The university's president, Eric Barron, signed the DACA letter.
A debate over sanctuary campuses is not the only immigration matter likely to come before the legislature early next year. State Rep. Martina White (R., Phila.) said she plans to reintroduce legislation that would penalize sanctuary cities. White's measure was passed by the House and amended in the Senate in the fall, but the legislative session expired before the measure could come up for another vote.
White said she decided to reintroduce the legislation after Mayor Kenney said he would continue to keep Philadelphia a sanctuary city. She cited concern about illegal immigrants who committed violent crimes.
"We need to protect our citizens and protect our taxpayers," she said.
White's and Knowles' proposals will come before a legislature in which Republicans picked up seats in the House and the Senate in the last election.