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YU Becomes ‘Sanctuary’ Campus For Refugees

YU Becomes ‘Sanctuary’ Campus For Refugees

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at

L-R, Sam Stanton MLSA Treasurer, Stephen Wah MLSA President, and Sophia Gurulé MLSA Secretary. Courtesy
L-R, Sam Stanton MLSA Treasurer, Stephen Wah MLSA President, and Sophia Gurulé MLSA Secretary. Courtesy

Like the rallies at JFK Airport and downtown Manhattan last weekend protesting President Trump’s executive order on immigration, this one began spontaneously at the grass roots.

Members of Cardozo Law School’s Minority Law Students Alliance at Yeshiva University circulated a petition against the order temporarily closing the country’s borders and banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

More than 200 people signed the petition, which was written “to protest the xenophobic, anti-immigrant Republican presidential campaign, and in fear of the repeal of [President Obama’s] immigration executive orders,” according to the student group’s secretary, Sophia Gurule. “This is a student-organized initiative,” she told The Jewish Week Tuesday.

She said a survey conducted by the organization indicated that an unspecified number of people, either students or employees, may be affected by the Trump administration’s new immigration regulations.

In response, it appears as if Yeshiva University is becoming a de facto sanctuary campus for students and others who may be affected by the executive order.

YU President Richard Joel, while not officially declaring the school’s campuses here part of the “sanctuary” movement that would restrict the entry of immigration officials on university premises, said in a statement this week: “Our policy is not to disclose any private information about our students, faculty or staff unless we are presented with a subpoena  or court order. Further to this point, we will not act on behalf of federal agents and not assist in any efforts to investigate or detain students, staff or faculty unless presented with a warrant or other legal process.”

Since YU is private property, the school can enforce this procedure, Gurule said.

The YU policy puts the Orthodox school among a small number of universities, including Columbia, Northwestern and Wesleyan, that have made a sanctuary declaration in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order to block travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, stop all refugee admissions for 120 days, and ban Syrian refugees indefinitely. Similar petitions are circulating at the University of Maryland and the University of California.

Administrators at other school stress that such a designation is not necessary, since student information, including immigration status, is already protected under long-standing privacy laws.

According to a press release published by the alliance, YU will provide “sanctuary protection and financial support for undocumented students, staff, and faculty.”

“I want to state clearly that we are committed to protecting the privacy of our students, staff and faculty to the fullest extent allowed by law,” President Joel said in his statement. “Moreover, if a student’s continued enrollment at our school is jeopardized by an inability to work because of loss of DACA [Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals] status, we will make every effort to assist and explore options to keep the student in class.”

Joel wrote that the university is “monitoring these developments closely and will keep you apprised of changes that might affect students and faculty.”

Meanwhile, the university advised against travel to the seven countries named in Trump’s new policy “due to the current uncertainty about readmission to the U.S.”

Earlier in the week, The Jewish Week learned that a Yeshiva University graduate school student has also been affected by the ban; the university would not provide further details.

Steve Lipman contributed to this report.

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