Nearly 200 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs employees have joined a nationwide movement, calling for the school to become a sanctuary campus for "undocumented students, staff, workers and their families."
Faculty and other staff signed a petition and delivered it Thursday to UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak.
The document asks the chancellor to "take concrete steps to reaffirm the core values of 'inclusive diversity' " in its mission statement, citing the CU system's stance on diversity and inclusiveness and nondiscrimination policy.
"The petition generated a groundswell of support from across the campus; faculty from all ranks - tenure-track, tenured, nontenure-track and staff - chose to sign it," said the petition's primary author, Katherine Mack, chair and associate professor of English.
The goal, she said, is to "create, maintain and strengthen an inclusive learning environment for our students."
The petition references president-elect Donald Trump's pre-election pledges to deport illegal immigrants and post-election rumblings to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which enables undocumented youths to lawfully study and work in the United States.
"Some of our students, staff, campus employees and their families are now the targets of vitriol and hate crimes," the petition states. "They feel under siege and live in fear of deportation. These attacks on immigrants and their families undermine our community and threaten our educational mission, since a secure environment is a prerequisite for learning."
There have been no formal reports of physical violence against students at UCCS, said UCCS spokesman Tom Hutton.
However, "We have had numerous complaints of negative verbal encounters and written postings," he said.
The idea of sanctuary is "a very powerful metaphor that expresses both legal protection and reprieve from danger," said Jeffrey Montez de Oca, associate professor of sociology at UCCS and a petition supporter.
"At a time of hostility and inflamed emotions, the sanctuary movement strikes me as a powerful political statement that says we will not turn against the most vulnerable members of our community," he said. "As faculty, we should always stand up for the right and interests of our students."
Among the petition's calls for action: Deny U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers access to the campus without a warrant, pledge that campus security will not enforce immigration law on behalf of federal agents, deny Immigration and Customs requests for student information that identifies immigration status, denounce hate speech and provide confidential counseling and legal services for undocumented students and others affiliated.
UCCS is a state-funded university, thus meeting some of the conditions would be illegal. For example, UCCS cannot prohibit federal immigration officials from entering the public places on campus, Hutton said.
"Although it has been the official policy of Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to treat college campuses as 'sensitive locations,' where they will not interview, search, or arrest any person without extraordinary circumstances," he said.
For nonpublic places, such as dormitories and offices, federal regulations do not allow immigration officials access without a warrant.
Also, UCCS campus police do not ask people about their immigration status or otherwise enforce immigration law, he said.
"If there were extraordinary circumstances where federal officials sought UCCS police assistance, such as if there was a national security threat or other true emergency, we would consider that request and, if appropriate, provide support," Hutton said.
In a statement, Shockley-Zalabak said she agrees with the sentiments in the petition.
"These students are an important part of the fabric of UCCS," she said. "All of these students fully comply with the legal requirements of their DACA and ASSET status."
Colorado lawmakers passed ASSET in 2013, allowing undocumented students who meet requirements to pay in-state tuition rates.
UCCS has more than 30 DACA students, some of whom receive the in-state tuition benefit, Hutton said. There are no undocumented workers on campus, he said.
Even with the legal constraints as a public university, Shockley-Zalabak said, "There is much we can and will do."
That includes "developing new communication vehicles to assist DACA students with support systems and provide information on status changes, should any occur," she said.
No changes in federal DACA policy have been made, but university officials say the uncertainty about what a Trump presidency will look like has created concern for DACA students and others on college campuses.
An estimated 150 campuses in the nation are considering labeling themselves sanctuary campuses amid fears from immigrant students that the DACA program will be changed or discontinued, and in Colorado that the ASSET law will be changed.
Students at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder staged protests last month, calling for the campus to join the #sanctuarycampus movement.
Shockley-Zalabak, other CU campus chancellors and CU system leadership have met with students, employees and governance groups in recent weeks to listen to their concerns.
Some undocumented students and staff on campuses feel unsafe, uneasy or fearful, according to a statement from Irene Griego, chair of the University of Colorado board of regents.
"The rhetoric of the campaign left some worried about their futures," she wrote.
The CU system will comply with state and federal laws, Griego said.
"We are committed to ensuring CU remains a place where people of every race, gender, ethnicity and political view are welcomed in the spirit of civility and treated with respect," Griego said. "We also recognize the university is a place where divergent views should get a complete and respectful airing."