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Santa Rosa Junior College approves ‘safe haven’ to protect undocumented students

Declaring it the “right thing to do,” officials overseeing Santa Rosa Junior College on Tuesday proclaimed the campus a “safe haven” for its hundreds of undocumented students, approving a measure that seeks to safeguard students’ personal records from prying authorities and limit school cooperation with federal immigration agents.

The unanimous vote came after just 10 minutes of discussion, and the closely watched decision drew applause from many of the 50 or so faculty, staff and students in the audience at the library on the Petaluma campus.

SRJC President Frank Chong called it the “most important resolution” to come before the board of trustees in his five-year tenure.

“It’s really important for us to come forward and be very clear, without ambiguity, (to state) what our values are and what’s important to our community,” said Chong, who urged the board to approve the resolution.

“It’s important for our community to stand firm in our support for students.”

The resolution was crafted with input from students, faculty and staff. It came as a number of colleges and school districts throughout the state — including Santa Rosa City Schools — have taken similar stances to support their undocumented students as President Donald Trump’s administration gears up to crack down on illegal immigration.

The resolution prohibits the college from releasing personal information about students, including immigration status, without a court order or subpoena.

It also bars campus police from questioning or making an arrest solely on a person’s immigration status.

Trustees Mariana Martinez and Jordan Burns called the measure personal.

Martinez, who teaches Chicano studies and serves as an adviser to the UndocuScholars Coalition at Sonoma State University, works daily with students who are undocumented or come from families with undocumented members. Many of her students previously transferred from SRJC.

“These are students who aren’t just working alongside the fields,” Martinez said.

“These are kids who are going to be your next professors. These are kids who are going to be your next doctors.”

Roughly 480 undocumented students are currently enrolled at SRJC, about a quarter fewer than last semester, according to Rafael Vazquez, an outreach coordinator.

Although he’s never had to worry about deportation as a U.S.-born citizen, Burns, who runs a nonprofit that provides education and other resources to children in Kenya, said the issue “hit home” after initial concerns over with regard to his two stepsons, who came to the U.S. on permanent resident visas.

He said one of the boys often travels to his native Kenya, raising fears in his family that he would not be allowed back into the U.S.

The resolution steered clear of the politically charged term “sanctuary,” a designation that Trump warned could lead to the loss of federal funding for communities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.

“We can’t act based on fears and threats,” Chong said after the board vote. “We’re not looking for conflict. We can’t back down from supporting our students.”

Student government President Jordan Panana Carbajal said he would have liked a written agreement from the campus police chief vowing not to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as proposed in the student government’s resolution. Still, he praised the board for declaring the campus a safe haven.

“It shows that the JC is with us, that they are willing to support us,” said Carbajal, who was previously undocumented and is advocating for more safe spaces and a bigger campus service hub for undocumented students who arrived as children.

“I love the JC,” he added. “Passing this resolution made me love it more.”

As an undocumented student, Maria Salcido, too, was happy to see the college taking on the issue.

“I’m grateful we’re continuing this dialogue,” Salcido said at the start of the meeting.

Salcido, who also serves in student government, said more work needs to be done to assist undocumented students. “It doesn’t stop here,” she said.