The University of Illinois will not label its three campuses as sanctuaries for immigrant students illegally living in the U.S., school leaders said Tuesday as they pushed aside pressure from faculty and others to make the designation.
Petitions from students and faculty at campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield were among efforts by students and others at more than 100 colleges and universities around the country to make the schools sanctuaries for immigrants following President-elect Donald Trump's promises to crack down on illegal immigration.
U of I petitioners sought promises that student records would not be released and the school would not comply with any immigration enforcement action, as well designating someone on campus to help students seek tuition funding and other issues.
But sanctuary status is not well defined as a legal concept and "may actually jeopardize our institution," University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen and the chancellors of the three campuses said in a statement Tuesday .
"However, we will continue to do everything we can within the law to reassure, support and protect our students. Let us be clear -- that includes our undocumented students," Killeen and the chancellors said in the statement.
The university receives roughly $733 million annually in federal funding - about 13 percent of its $5.6 billion operating budget - that could be at risk if the university does not comply with immigration law, spokesman Tom Hardy said.
But what would happen if there were some kind of federal crackdown on students who are not legal residents of the country isn't clear, he said.
"There's just a lot of unknowns and a lot of speculation. But what we do know is that we don't want to put our institutions and our people at risk of not complying with laws," Hardy said.
Faculty members at the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses who signed petitions said they were disappointed by Tuesday's decision.
Lynn Fisher, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, was one of the faculty members at the Springfield campus who helped circulate a petition requesting that the school be made a sanctuary campus.
She said Tuesday she hadn't yet had a chance to discuss the administrators' statement with her colleagues.
"I was pleased to see the president and the chancellors making a statement that they want to do everything they can to reassure, support and protect undocumented students," Fisher said.
Petition drives and marches at campuses around the country followed Trump's pledge to reverse President Barack Obama's executive order granting temporary status to students living in the country illegally. Trump also promised during his campaign to create a "deportation force" and take federal funding away from sanctuary cities.
The Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago-based advocacy group, estimates that about 1,500 Illinois college students are in the country illegally.
This story, by the Associated Press, appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 6, 2016.
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