State College Borough Passes Resolution Vowing to Protect Immigrants

Though the municipality is home to parts of Pennsylvania State University, the resolution will have little to no effect on the school itself.

State College

State College Municipal Building, via Google Maps

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistook a resolution passed by the Borough of State College for an action by Pennsylvania State University. While parts of the university are located within the municipality, the entities are separate, and the university was not involved in the resolution.

The Borough of State College, in which some Pennsylvania State University facilities are located, has enacted a formal resolution pledging to protect immigrants less than a week after Penn State’s president expressed hesitation about terming the school a “sanctuary campus.”

The resolution passed by the State College Borough Council on Monday states that the council “will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to apprehend, detain or deport community members.”

“I think that our immigration law is not only complex, it is occasionally wrong in the worst possible, unconstitutional ways,” Councilwoman Theresa Lafer told the Centre Daily Times. “Saying that we are not going to back and enforce certain clearly problematic aspects of immigration law is the only option that we have from my point of view.”

The resolution will have little effect on Penn State, according to Ben Manning of the university’s Office of Strategic Communications.

“There’s only a geographic connection between us and State College,” Manning said. “They happen to be the town we are near, but they have their own governing body, and we have our own governing body, so it has no effect on us.”

Manning pointed to Penn State’s recent statement on its decision not to label itself as a “sanctuary campus.” It’s a term that both the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College have adopted, pledging not to share information about undocumented students or allow federal authorities on campus without warrants, despite pushback from conservatives like Republican state Rep. Jerry Knowles, who said he plans to introduce legislation that would punish sanctuary campuses by allowing the state to withhold funding from those colleges and universities. Both the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore are private schools, unlike Penn State.

In the statement, Penn State officials said the university would act in accordance with the law and that “the sanctuary term provides no additional protection, yet lacks clarity and implies protections that do not exist.”

The State College borough has not identified itself as a “sanctuary city” — a term with no one definition, though it’s frequently used to designate municipalities that do not uphold detainer requests issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, particularly if the person who the agency wants to detain or deport is already being held by a separate agency. Mayor Jim Kenney, who once referred to Philadelphia as a “sanctuary city,” now says he prefers the term “Fourth Amendment city,” referring to the amendment that prevents citizens from being held without a warrant.

Penn State is one of more than 450 colleges with leaders who have signed a nationwide petition supporting the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. President-elect Donald Trump has previously mentioned that he would repeal DACA, though he has since lightened his stance.

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