The North Texas Walkouts

Both Denton-based Universities executed two separate yet organized walkouts today, eventually meeting together downtown. Students from both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University aim to declare their campus a 'sanctuary campus.' Both Universities formed petitions that gained hundreds of signatures and were presented to University presidents earlier this week.

What exactly does "sanctuary" mean in these terms? Although there is no legal definition, a 'sanctuary city' is one that has adopted a policy of protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws in the country that they are now living in illegally. Similarly, a sanctuary campus would adopt policies to protect students who are undocumented immigrants. 

According to CNN, there are more than 200 state and local jurisdictions in the United States that do not honor the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests. Texas does not have any 'sanctuary cities' nor does the State have any 'sanctuary campuses' at the moment. Some think that Houston is a 'sanctuary city' but according to the Texas Tribune, not even the regions top immigration law enforcement offical thinks that is true.

At noon today, the Chancellor and President of Texas Woman's Unversity, Carine M. Feyten, Ph.D., responded to the petition she received regarding declaring TWU a sanctuary campus. In her statement on the University's website, she says:

"I have carefully read the words of the petition, and I hear the fears and concerns behind the words and between the lines. I am myself a native of Belgium, so I can empathize better than most with many foreigners' feelings of uncertainty. Even so, I recognize there are privileges I have that many of the petitioners do not. And so, I am listening—will continue to listen—but at this moment would like to offer some words of assurance to you, the students, faculty, and staff.

While we recognize that many of our students and others are concerned about the future of their education here, as well as other issues that may affect them and their families, I also want to assure everyone that we remain committed to the principles on which Texas Woman’s was founded.  As the nation’s largest university primarily for women, we are “an inclusive environment that embraces diversity.” It is part of our mission.

I feel that many who signed the petition are unaware of what we already offer at Texas Woman’s and of some of our practices. As we move forward with our strategic plan, we will do even more, together. Sustainable change does not happen overnight, and it takes all of us engaging together in the process of making our great university even stronger. We are the #campuswithaheart."

The letter offers two sets of assurances and not once mentioned a definite "no." 

Dr. Neal Smatresk of the University of North Texas declined the petition but will be holding a town hall in January for students. The University of North Texas' petition to declare UNT a sanctuary campus can be accessed here. 

4:42pm: Earlier this afternoon, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that Texas will not tolerate sanctuary cities or campuses and that he will cut funding for any state campus if they establish a sanctuary state.

Although Governor Abbott suggests he would cut funding to any city or state campus that looks to seek sanctuary status, he has yet to do so. The Dallas Morning News reports that Gov. Abbott sent a letter threatening to cut funding from the Dallas County Sheriff's Department after Sheriff Lupe Valdez said she was going to change her department's immigration detention policy. After clarification to his office, no changes were made to the policy and it is still in tact. 

3:30pm: Denton Record-Chronicle reporter Jenna Duncan tweets that UNT President Neal Smatresk says that he will not declare the University of North Texas a Sanctuary Campus at this time, but that he will hold a town hall for students in January.  

#SanctuaryUNT and #SanctuaryTWU blew up on Twitter, too..

Updated at 1:32pm: TWU students have marched downtown and are now speaking on the courthouse lawn. 

TWU Students march downtown. Photos above by Dmetri Howell

Audio clips of protestors starting at TWU, courtesy of Jackie Thompson:

Protestors in downtown Denton. Photo by Jackie Thompson.

12:27 pm: Both Denton-based Universities have scheduled walkouts for today at noon, and both are underway. Students at both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University want to declare their campus a "Sanctuary Campus." We will be updating this story throughout the day as more photos, interviews, and other news rolls in.

TWU Walkout. Photo by Jackie Thompson.

UNT Protestors lined up. Photo by Madi Gostkowski.

Protestors at UNT. Photo by Madi Gostkowski.