“Administration! Come out!” chanted Camila Ruiz Segovia, her voice echoing across the quad outside Brown’s University Hall.
Segovia was just one of hundreds in a fervent chorus of students, staff, and faculty who walked out of class at Brown University on Nov. 16, 2016, joining a nationwide protest.
Segovia, a junior political science major, carried a makeshift sign on a piece of brown cardboard that read, “Yo grito lo que mi familia calla,” or “I shout out what my family keeps silent.” Together with the gathered crowd, she marched through the crisp autumn air to deliver a list of demands to the university administration.
What did Segovia, and the other students around her, want? Among other demands, they wanted a formal declaration that would establish the campus as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrant students.
Segovia took part in the walkout in support of her undocumented peers. But she also participated because she knows new immigration laws could affect her life too.
Segovia grew up in Mexico City and has a temporary student visa. Now, at Brown, she’s heavily involved in activism and advocacy for marginalized communities. She’s especially focused on helping victims of her home country’s ongoing drug war.
But now, things feel different for her. Donald Trump’s election has engendered a new wave of hate and xenophobia across the country, inspired in part by the president-elect’s own anti-immigrant stances.
Now Segovia says she feels scared to walk home from the library at night. She’s afraid of the angry, harassing voices that swarm her every time she logs online. She’s worried about what Trump’s presidency means for her future, and her friends’ futures, especially if the federal government keeps their promise to crack down on immigration.
Brown University isn’t the only place where this sanctuary movement has come to a head.
By formally declaring itself as a sanctuary, Brown University and other universities like it could protect undocumented students from harsh or unfair targeting by federal authorities. If they lived on a sanctuary campus, undocumented students could continue to pursue their educations with less fear of being turned in for arrest or deportation.
“The university should understand that you cannot study in peace if you’re worried about your health or about your legal status in the country, or if you’re worried about whether to wear your hijab or not,” Segovia said.
This kind of sanctuary policy could be meaningful for about 150 people at Brown, including students, faculty, staff, and families who are affiliated with the university in some way.
That’s still a fairly small undocumented population in the grand scheme of things, but it’d be a particularly powerful statement to have an Ivy League school with a reputation for academic progress and bright alumni leaders spearheading this kind of movement.
Which brings us to another good question: Why wouldn’t the school agree to these measures? Well, sanctuary cities are already reportedly being threatened with a loss of federal funding, and campuses that declare themselves as immigrant sanctuaries might be placing themselves at a similar risk. One spokesperson for Brown has also indicated that some aspects of the sanctuary request would fall outside the school’s legal jurisdiction.
This march is just one small part of a bigger movement all over the country to build safe places following Trump’s election.
For an immigrant student like Segovia, this matters both personally and professionally. While Segovia is fortunate enough to be attending Brown on scholarship with the assistance of a student visa, that paperwork only offers her temporary protection. But a sanctuary title would allow her to chase her ambitious dreams with less fear.
“[I want to be] someone who can connect with marginalized communities but also kind of have the human capital to talk to government people as well, and just creating those bridges,” she said.
To do this, she’ll need to build that network of connections and secure a work visa to stay in the United States after college. With current rules in place, it’ll be hard, but not impossible, to achieve these goals. But she worries that in Trump’s America, her ambitions will be impossible.
“Honestly one of the reasons I came here was just to feel safe,” she said, referring to the work she’s already done as an advocate against the drug war that has left her targeted in her home country.
“I could go back but it’s really hard to find a community. Once I did here, it was the right place, and I want to stay now. And I think it’s legitimate.”