UM students rally for sanctuary campus status


MISSOULA, Mont. - The University of Montana joined 80 other campuses across the country Wednesday in a protest to make the university a safe sanctuary for undocumented students.

A sanctuary campus or city protects undocumented students or immigrants from prosecution, solely for violating immigration laws.

"Our motive today is to help UM recognize that we do want to accept people of all backgrounds, of all religions and ethnicities regardless of whether they were born here or they immigrated here," said student Bliss Collins. Collins spoke at Wednesday's event. His parents were refugees from West Africa.

"I think that people my age and my generation are really starting to understand what division has done to this country and what fear does to this country, and I think that it's why we have so many people willing to come out in a campus setting and fight for that right," Collins added.

Rally organizers called on university officials to respond to their list of demands. The list includes about 10 demands, including asking the university to publicly announce it supports undocumented students, asking the university not to comply with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests, and for the university to add immigration status to the list of campus discrimination policies.

The list of demands also asks campus police not to inquire about a student's immigration status. However, if an undocumented student took a step off of campus property into city jurisdiction and interacted with city police the protections wouldn't apply.

Montana Board of Regents spokesman Kevin McRae said in an email statement that education is the board's top priority, not debate over sanctuary status.

UM communications director Paula Short says the university needs to learn more before making any statement or performing any action.

"The University of Montana does run this institution in compliance with state and federal laws as well as the guidance and regulations set forth by the Montana Board of Regents," she said. "We feel like the campus sanctuary issue is certainly something that we would need to look into further and give some further consideration, so we are really not in the position to make a determination announcement regarding it at this time."

A letter detailing the university's response was sent out to the campus community. University officials are inviting organizers to meet to listen to their requests.

"We're coming out to support everyone who's feeling marginalized and afraid," said organizer Eamon Ormseth. "We need to come together as Americans and realize that people here have a right to pray without being afraid, to go to class without being afraid."

Austin Haney stood and listened to the rally to learn more. He great up in Great Falls and said he did not realize discrimination was an issue. "Honestly I really don't know how to feel, I mean I've lived in Montana my whole life, and I've just never really seen a problem. We kind of look out for our Montanans, we help each other, it doesn't matter who you are. If you're a good person to me, I'm a good person to you."

Seattle, Portland and San Francisco are among those with sanctuary city status. The Texas Tribune did an analysis of Immigration and Customs Enforcement records. In it, ICE identified at least 165 cities and counties that had specific policies limiting cooperation on immigration enforcement. The same analysis shows more than 300 local jurisdictions with similar policies.

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