A petition that has been circulating online since Tuesday urging University of Portland’s administration to declare the University of Portland a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented immigrants now has close to 1,000 signatures from students, alumni, hall staff, professors and family of UP community members.
The petition follows those created by dozens of other universities across the nation that have drafted similar petitions urging school administrators to take steps to declare their institutions “sanctuaries,” meaning they would limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The UP petition’s wording is similar to one drafted by students at the University of Notre Dame, UP’s sister school.
University President Fr. Mark Poorman sent an email Friday morning acknowledging the petition and saying that administration is working with other universities to see what could be done to protect students in the case of extreme measures taken on immigration by President-elect Donald Trump.
Senior theology major Matthew Nelson, who helped draft the petition, appeared on the conservative Lars Larson radio talk show, which covers the Northwest, for about 10 minutes Thursday afternoon, where he was pressed about the idea of UP becoming a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
To begin, Nelson explained that he and a few other University members came together to make the petition because they wanted to make UP feel like a home to all.
“We are a community of very diverse people, beliefs and ethnicities,” Nelson told Larson. “This place is home to everyone that goes here and making it a sanctuary would make it more safe for people to call home.”
Larson said “that sounds all warm and fuzzy,” and then asked Nelson if students at the school knew the 10 Commandments.
“Is one of them ‘Thou shalt not steal’?” Larson said. “So when somebody takes up residency in a country without doing it legally, when they work without doing it legally, aren’t they stealing, aren’t they violating those 10 Commandments?”
“Catholic social teaching teaches us that, as there are undocumented persons in the country, we must still give them basic human needs and not just assume that they are stealing from us,” Nelson responded.
Larson asserted that immigrants here illegally are “stealing spots” from legal citizens who may have applied to the University and were not accepted.
To that, Nelson said he saw justice in protecting them because “we are giving undocumented people the opportunity to get an education so they can become members of our society.”
Junior music major Lupita Zamora-Resendiz, who also helped draft the petition, told The Beacon that this petition is important because it stands up for those who are vulnerable and fearful for the future of their lives and the lives of their families.
“Saying ‘I am an illegal immigrant’ isn’t usually something that undocumented individuals share about themselves — many are fearful of the consequences,” Zamora-Resendiz said. “Because of this fear, there needs to be people who are willing to speak for them and willing to make a change for them when they are most vulnerable. As a University community, as a Catholic University, we need to stand in solidarity with our smaller and more vulnerable communities here on campus.”
Assistant Director for Faith and Formation Anthony Paz said he pitched the petition to Nelson and Zamora-Resendiz after hearing of similar ones from friends he attended graduate school with at Notre Dame. Paz has provided the students moral support through the petition process.
Paz said that the anti-immigration rhetoric that won Donald Trump support in the presidential election opposes the Catholic teaching, which states that immigrants seeking a better life should find welcome in a new nation.
“Since he won the election, Catholics as individuals and Catholic institutions must go out of their way to reassure undocumented immigrants that they have a home with us and that we will protect them from harm however we can,” Paz said. “I have been amazed at the speed with which this petition got attention and feel very proud to consider myself a part of this community.”
Nelson said that the petition will be available to sign until Tues., Nov. 22, and the following day ASUP will present the completed letter to University President Father Mark Poorman.
“Even if the administration can’t make it a sanctuary campus, it’s important to show that we are standing in solidarity with those who need us the most,” Nelson told The Beacon. “We’ll do what we can to make sure that they feel UP is their home and a community they can feel safe in.”