Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a statement Thursday denouncing colleges and cities who seek to declare sanctuary status and said he would suspend state funding to institutions that do.
The tweet came in response to petitions signed by students across the state advocating for their schools’ administrations to designate their campuses as ‘sanctuaries’ for undocumented students.
A petition to declare The University of Texas at Austin a sanctuary campus for undocumented students, created by UT professor Madeline Hsu, has garnered 2,040 signatures.
UT President Gregory Fenves said the University has no legal authority to become a sanctuary campus but said he signed a petition last week supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The immigration policy enacted during the Obama Administration allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to apply for a two-year deferral from deportation that can be renewed for a work permit.
“I think DACA has been very important for undocumented students at the University of Texas as it has been around the country,” Fenves said in response to questions during a Senate of College Councils general assembly meeting. “Certainly I and the higher education community support the continuation of the DACA program.”
Fenves said UT police, as well as police throughout the state, do not ask for a person’s immigration status and are not allowed to ask for a student’s immigration status.
“We protect all student information under FERPA,” Fenves said. “That is all information including immigration status, so that information is not available without going through a legal process.”
Students from Texas State University, the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University released petitions to their universities about making their schools sanctuary campuses. UNT and TWU also organized walkouts Thursday to raise awareness for the issue.
Sheridan Lagunas-Aguirre, operations coordinator for the University Leadership Initiative, said he found the governor’s statement completely outrageous.
“As a person who’s undocumented, this baffles me,” said Lagunas-Aguirre, who graduated from the University in May. “Immigrant students have been attending state universities since 2001, and Texas has built this legacy of protecting and supporting undocumented youth who are pursuing higher education.”
Lagunas-Aguirre said this moment calls for professors to go public with their support of their students.
“There are undocumented students at the University of Texas and other campuses in the state,” Lagunas-Aguirre said. “It’s time for professors to make a stand and make it clear to other campuses that immigrants are here to stay and we’re not going anywhere.”