Notre Dame A Sanctuary Campus? An Irrational Choice

In the past week, some Notre Dame faculty, employees, students, and alumni, have been circulating and signing a petition urging Fr. John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, to make Notre Dame a sanctuary campus. Though Notre Dame already does much for undocumented students, such as not volunteering information to immigration authorities and not allowing federal agencies to conduct investigations on campus unless they are unrelated to immigration status, that is apparently not enough for some, who have staged a walkout at South Dining Hall and a sit-in outside the Main Building, demanding a public statement declaring Notre Dame a sanctuary campus.

This would be an incredibly irrational, reactionary choice from the administration–and one that could have serious consequences for future students.

The immigration laws in this country are broken. It’s an amazing thing (and a privilege) to live in a country that people are willing to give their lives to get to, and this is one of the reasons I favor a more broad legal immigration policy–one where those who want to migrate to the United States are able to. It should be the goal of every American to get to a place where sanctuary cities (and campuses) are not even necessary due to an inclusive immigration policy that allows a poor farmer to have the same path to immigration as a wealthy college graduate.

That being said, I also think as a nation we need borders and the rule of law–undocumented immigrants broke the law. It is not anti-immigrant, racist, or xenophobic (a favorite word of the Left) to want strong, enforced borders, and an immigration policy that is fair to those who follow the process. Though, I do not support deportation of those without a criminal record and support a path to citizenship, I do think there should be some punishment, such as a fine or a requirement to pay back taxes, along with a background check, in order to stay in the United States. The number of undocumented immigrants in this country is a failure of our society. These people should not be living in the shadows and forced to hide in sanctuary cities. We need to bring them into the economy and into American society–they need to be working a job on the books, paying taxes, buying houses, joining bowling leagues, getting a library card–all the things that make America such a wonderful place to live.

Our government has a responsibility to solve the immigration problem–an issue that both parties have enjoyed talking about for the past twenty years. Whether you agree with Donald Trump’s view on immigration or not, you have to give him credit for bringing the problem of illegal immigration back into the national spotlight. With a Republican Congress, Trump (and the Republican Party) have an incentive to pass immigration reform in a way that strengthens the border while also giving the 13 million or so illegal immigrants currently living in this country without a criminal record a path to citizenship. Politically speaking, this makes the Republican Party an attractive option to Hispanic voters, due to it’s pro-life, pro-family message that corresponds with traditional values in the Hispanic community. It’s worth noting that recent analyses of voting trends following the election have shown the arc of Hispanic voting patterns more closely mirroring the Irish than African-Americans, in which each subsequent generation is more likely to vote Republican than the previous one.

Immigration reform is on the way, and will most likely be part of the Trump administration’s first 100 days. Another piece of legislation I expect that Trump will pass in the first 100 days is the abolishment of all federal funding to sanctuary cities, and by extension sanctuary campuses. That is why a public declaration of Notre Dame as a sanctuary campus by the administration would be such an irrational, short-sighted decision that has great potential to harm the venerable university and its students.

In the past fifty years, Notre Dame has increased investment in the sciences in order to secure more federal funding (just look at Jordan Hall of Science and Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering). Federal funding and research grants are essential to attracting top faculty. The South Bend Tribune reported that Notre Dame received $128 million in research funding in fiscal year 2016, which marked the second highest amount in its history (trailing the $133 million in 2015). Of that $128 million sum, 57% ($73 million) came from federal grants. Publicly denouncing (and some could argue blatantly skirting) federal law could result in an annual loss of millions of research dollars for Notre Dame. Have the faculty members who signed the petition considered the potential effects of their demands?

Additionally, Notre Dame would also place its 501(c)3 status as a tax exempt organization in question. The IRS mandates that to maintain a 501(c)3 designation, an organization must operate in accord with its stated exempt purpose. It is not a stretch of the imagination for a Trump administration, which already prohibited federal funding for sanctuary cities and campuses, to view a refusal to enforce federal law as a departure from Notre Dame’s stated mission, to educate the minds and hearts of its students. The loss of 501(c)3 status would have a catastrophic impact on the university, as income on the $10.4 billion endowment would be taxable at around a 35% rate, leading to a rise in tuition and decrease in financial aid. Considering the rate of return on the Notre Dame endowment in fiscal year 2014 was 19.7%, the university stands to lose millions in taxes. Notre Dame would also risk a decrease in donations from alumni unhappy with the university taking a political stand with which they disagree.

Therefore, rather than ceding to the demands of a vocal minority of faculty, students, and alumni who gave little thought to the long-term consequences of their demands, Fr. Jenkins should follow the example of the late, great Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, who famously told Vietnam War protestors to return to their dorms (which they did).

Instead of contributing to more divisiveness, the University of Notre Dame should use its standing as the premier Catholic institution in the United States to work with both parties in Washington to drive meaningful immigration reform that protects the inherent dignity of each immigrant by allowing them to live in and contribute to American society as full and active members.

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