Response to Open Letter Regarding Undocumented Students

In early December, The Bates Student printed an open letter asking the Bates administration to announce the measures we will take to protect the rights and status of undocumented students and seek “official status as a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants living at Bates and in Lewiston.” Although the letter referenced a petition to be delivered, I have not yet received it. Because the open letter was published in the Student, however, I want take advantage of the first issue of the new term to respond.

I appreciate the initiative taken by students in surfacing issues relating to undocumented students, and I fully support the call for a vigorous defense of our fundamental values of inclusion and equality and for specific actions to protect the safety and security of all members of the Bates community. I also applaud the solidarity expressed throughout the letter with the refugee communities in Lewiston and Auburn.

I am pleased to clarify once again how our policies and practices with respect to DACA and undocumented students unequivocally support the goals set forth in the open letter. And, as I stated in my November 30 message to the community, I will continue to speak out against any present or potential encroachment on the rights of any individuals—including, but not limited to, undocumented students—in our community.

With respect to undocumented students, some of whom currently enjoy the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, we do offer, and will continue to offer, the following actions and protections:

  • We will continue to welcome applications from all students without regard to their immigration status, and applications for admission from DACA and undocumented students will be treated the same as those from domestic students.
  • We will continue to offer DACA and undocumented students institutional, need-based financial aid, and, as with all students, we will meet the full demonstrated financial need of any admitted student.
  • We will not release any information about students’ citizenship or immigration status to any third party or government agency unless legally compelled to do so.
  • We will not take any voluntary action that would put any student at risk solely because of their immigration status.
  • We will continue to work with colleges and universities across the nation in collective action aimed at upholding, continuing, and expanding DACA and its associated protections.
  • We will continue to work with our state and local communities to support, and counter discrimination against, local residents who are immigrants to our community.
  • We will continue to operate by the following protocol with respect to our Department of Security and Campus Safety: Our officers do not and will not inquire about any student’s citizenship or immigration status. This is a long-standing policy that will continue in force.

With respect to the request that we declare Bates a “sanctuary campus,” I feel strongly that the college should take a nuanced approach. As noted above, I fully endorse the concerns that lie behind the sanctuary campus request, and we will continue to address these concerns in our actions and policies. I do not, however, think that it is wise or prudent to declare Bates a “sanctuary campus” in explicit terms.

Having carefully studied this issue and consulted with legal counsel, I am mindful that the term “sanctuary campus” has no legal definition or standing and may in fact provide false assurances to members of the campus community. On one hand, the term may suggest that we are willing to act without regard for our legal obligations, which we are not empowered as an institution to do. On the other hand, it may suggest to individuals on our campus or in our local communities that the Bates campus, as a physical space, has a special protective status apart from the law. This is not true, and to suggest otherwise could potentially cause adverse attention and harm to the very individuals we wish to protect.

Accordingly, in my considered judgment, our community is better served at this time by a clear exposition—as outlined above—of specific policies and commitments than by the adoption of a symbolic designation that could be misleading to those who count on the college for meaningful action. That said, we will continue to monitor this set of issues closely, and adapt our stance, as appropriate, if there are relevant changes in law or policy that warrant further action.

Again, I want to thank the students, faculty, and staff who raised these very important concerns and make clear that I and other leaders in the college are always open to conversation. As the next weeks and months unfold, and the new Congress and administration begin to take action on a variety of fronts, we will pay close attention to developments that affect the work of colleges and universities, and we will continue vigorously to defend the rights of all members of our community.

Meanwhile, I encourage all of us on campus to be mindful of the values that define Bates and inform our discourse and to work every day to ensure that each and every one of us is able to find a respected and respectful place in both.


Clayton Spencer