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College students fear deportation or loss of rights

When she was a child, Carimer Andujar remembers, federal immigration agents searched her neighborhood in Passaic. That was the first time that Andujar realized her immigration status made her vulnerable. Now a 21-year-old engineering student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Andujar worries about agents staging a raid on campus.

When she was a child, Carimer Andujar remembers, federal immigration agents searched her neighborhood in Passaic.

That was the first time that Andujar realized her immigration status made her vulnerable. Now a 21-year-old engineering student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Andujar worries about agents staging a raid on campus.

The prospect of an immigration overhaul under incoming President Donald Trump is stoking fears with immigrants such as Andujar, who is part of a program started by President Obama that has deferred the threat of deportation for undocumented young people and allowed them to work legally.

She is among the students across the country who took part in "sanctuary campus" protests last week, calling on colleges to protect immigrants by refusing to share information with federal authorities and barring immigration enforcement officials from entering campuses.

College campuses have traditionally been low priorities for immigration enforcement.

"It's like sending in the National Guard for jaywalkers," said Michael Olivas, acting president at the University of Houston-Downtown and a longtime immigration law professor.

Although "that doesn't mean they're off limits," Olivas said, declaring a school a "sanctuary" wouldn't make a difference. "There is no such thing as a sanctuary. It's not a legal term."

Protesters say they want colleges to take a stand, including by backing the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Created by an Obama executive order, DACA could be rescinded by Trump. Without it, many young immigrants would lose not only a sense of security, but driver's licenses and work permits - making it more difficult to attend college.

In New Jersey, undocumented immigrants can pay in-state tuition under a 2013 law signed by Gov. Christie. But the law's impact will be lessened if students, unable to work, can't afford to pay for school.

Without DACA, "college will be a luxury," said Giancarlo Tello, 26, a DACA participant and director of undocuJersey, a group focused on helping undocumented immigrants access higher education.

For Tello, a graduate assistant at Rowan University in Glassboro, losing DACA would mean he might not be able to work for the university anymore and might have to drop out of his master's in education program, he said.

DACA, which began in 2012, is granted for two-year periods to eligible immigrants who came to the United States as children before 2007 and were 30 or younger in 2012, among other requirements. More than 700,000 people have participated in the program.

At a news conference last week, Obama urged Trump and his incoming administration "to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of what for all practical purposes are American kids."

Students debating whether to seek renewal are "in limbo," not knowing whether Trump will continue the program, Tello said.

While DACA participants can apply for permission to leave the country, Tello is cautioning students about scheduling trips that return after Trump's inauguration in January. "You don't want to find yourself on the outside" in the event of an immigration ban, Tello said.

Immigrants eligible for DACA who have never applied are being advised by some lawyers not to do so. "If you're not on the government radar right now, our advice is not to do it," said Jeff DeCristofaro, executive director of the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice.

A student's undocumented legal status might not be known to his or her school. At Rowan, for example, students apply through the Common Application, which doesn't require a Social Security number, said Joe Cardona, a spokesman for the school.

Like other New Jersey colleges, Rowan advertises the state's Tuition Equity Law on its website, with a link to an affidavit that undocumented immigrants must complete to be eligible for in-state tuition. Students must declare that they will file an application for legal immigration status as soon as they are eligible to do so.

In fall 2015, 577 tuition equity students enrolled in New Jersey colleges, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank.

On its website directing students to the affidavit, Rowan says: "Please note: The student information obtained above will be kept confidential."

Asked whether the school could be forced to provide that information to federal authorities, Cardona said: "Who knows? It's all new ground. If immigration officials were seeking information from the school, "that would be a state issue," because Rowan is a state university, he said.

In general, "student information is protected under federal law," said Dave Muha, a spokesman for the College of New Jersey. "Information that we can protect, we would protect."

"We don't believe that sanctuary campus has any legal standing, but we will stand with our DACA students and are committed to supporting them in any way we can should they be impacted by changes in government policy," Muha said.

At Rutgers, president Robert L. Barchi said in a letter to students last week that the university "will not share private information unless required by law or a court order."

Michael Klein, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, said it was important for colleges to assure students who are undocumented that they cannot be deported immediately and have statutory and constitutional rights.

He pointed to a 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy on enforcement actions at "sensitive locations," which include schools and churches. The policy states any enforcement action at a sensitive location requires prior approval from certain officials, except in specific circumstances, including a national security or terrorism matter and cases involving an imminent risk of death or violence.

Olivas, of the University of Houston, said that in 35 years of teaching immigration law, he's never heard of a student being deported for being undocumented. He doesn't want to give students false hope, but he thinks the "sanctuary campus" designation would provide false security.

"What do you think that's going to invite, if not people who want to harm my students?" Olivas said, noting that people who favor tighter immigration restrictions often equate the term sanctuary to lawlessness.

Although Andujar, the Rutgers student, doesn't perceive a direct threat to her safety at school, she has felt hostility. "I have my own peers saying things like I don't belong here, I'm a criminal," she said. If Rutgers "doesn't become a sanctuary school," she said, it "does become this place where students don't necessarily feel safe."

For Andujar, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 4, DACA has allowed her and others to be "normal students." But even in the program, she said, "there's always fear associated with holding the status that I do."



Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.