Members of the Columbia Gorge Community College Board of Education on Monday indicated general support for a resolution that has been under consideration designating the college a “Sanctuary College.”
Meeting at noon in The Dalles campus board room for a work session, all seven board members and CGCC President Dr. Frank Toda weighed in with their views on whether to approve Resolution 031417, a “Declaration of Open Access and Protection.”
The proposal designates CGCC as a “Sanctuary College committed … to the protection of all of its students including undocumented student immigrants and students who qualify as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals … and as a Sanctuary College, it will in no way assist the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration & Customs Enforcement with federal immigration law.”
The resolution also states that the college will provide student immigration status to federal authorities only if the college has consent from the student, or if the college is served with a valid subpoena, warrant, or court order.
On May 9, the board is expected to take a formal vote on whether to approve or reject the resolution.
In the past two months, there have been public hearings on the resolution at CGCC’s two campus locations, in The Dalles and Hood River.
Board member Ernest Keller began Monday’s session by pointing out that Oregon’s sanctuary status has been in place for several decades.
State law — similar to the CGCC resolution — prohibits the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration law if a person’s only crime is being in the country illegally. The law was approved overwhelmingly by the Oregon Legislature and became official state policy on July 7, 1987.
“This has been well-settled law in Oregon,” Keller said.
Board member J. Carmen Gamez said that, especially after hearing from the public at the second hearing on the issue at the Hood River campus, he is now in favor of the resolution.
“People want to be safe,” he said. “We need to provide a safe place and deal with the consequences later.”
Another member of the board, Lee Fairchild, explained that he was considering three criteria for making his decision on whether to support the resolution.
“One is what’s in my heart, and in my heart, I support it,” he said. “But there are two other criteria — what’s best for the college’s stability, and its ability to grow.”
Fairchild pointed out that he believes there is a significant risk that the college could lose its federal Pell grants if CGCC becomes a sanctuary college, but at the same time more students might enroll if the resolution was approved.
He said there was one other key factor he needed to consider.
“I’m elected to represent my constituency — which is from Odell and the Pine Grove area, and they are 50 percent to 60 percent Latino,” Fairchild explained. “One thing clear is, they want me to vote for sanctuary. This would send a message to Latinos that we support them.”
Board member Charleen Cobb said she was still considering where she stands on the sanctuary vote, and asked whether the college had considered a “secret vote” to see if the students currently enrolled want the college to term itself a sanctuary.
“There have been two public meetings and ample opportunities for people to make their preferences known,” responded Charlotte Arnold, the board’s chair.
James Willcox said he is leaning toward voting to approve the sanctuary college resolution.
“Students need to have no fear when studying,” he said. “Students living in fear is an immediate concern. If they (federal government) can cut off funding, maybe we can modify it (the resolution) in the future.”
Willcox said members of the board were elected to make wise choices for the college.
“It’s not necessarily what we think,” he said. “I’ll vote the way I feel it should be, with one caveat: If something changes, we can change course. But students are in fear right now.”
Ann Harris, Oregon State University’s open campus education coordinator with OSU Extension Service, was invited to be at the work session and to offer her thoughts about the sanctuary issue.
Harris said that regardless of politics, those attending the college need to know CGCC is with them.
“The word ‘sanctuary’ doesn’t provide more protection, but the word is a term of safety, and it means a lot,” Harris said. “It doesn’t mean more protections are coming, but it is a term of solidarity and of care.”
After Harris’ input, Arnold reflected on her perceptions of the debate over whether to designate CGCC as a sanctuary college. She pointed out that all functions of the CGCC campus are expected to be “free of coercion, threats, or bullying,” and she believes that the federal government’s threats to withhold funds for the college are acting in this manner.
“We wouldn’t tolerate it in any other sense, and we should not tolerate it here,” Arnold explained. “I support sanctuary. It’s welcoming anyone who wants an education, and making them safe and secure on campus.”
Toward the end of the session, Toda listed several specific points that helped shape his views on whether CGCC should be made into a sanctuary college.
“Sanctuary is much more than the word,” Toda said. “It means we are together, and a step toward sanctuary is a step away from fear.”
Toda pointed out that students can’t concentrate on learning if they are worried about being deported, so the campus needs to be seen as a safe place for all students.
“We are about building bridges, not walls,” Toda said. “We are asked to stand on the right side of history.”
The Board of Education’s next meeting is on May 9. At that time, the board is expected to take a formal vote on whether to approve or reject the “Sanctuary College” resolution.
The meeting will be held at CGCC’s Indian Creek Campus in Hood River, 1730 College Way, in classroom 1.310.