Do Quaker Schools Offer Sanctuary for Undocumented Students?

Friends and Education, Friends Who Care For Youth, Peace & Social Concerns, Religious Education

In the U.S., there are 71 Friends schools affiliated with the Friends Council on Education, serving PreK through high school students. What if all of those schools were sanctuary campuses, offering protection for their undocumented students and their families? Recently, AFSC and PYM decided to find out if any Quaker schools were having these same dreams of Quaker witness in the face of injustice.

Of the roughly 30 schools I spoke with, most had no sanctuary campus statements or other official policies regarding undocumented students. A handful of schools had procedural plans in place to guide staff through interactions with ICE on campus. San Francisco Friends School has shared their written guidelines. One Friends school had knowingly gone through the process of admitted an undocumented student, while a few others said they didn’t ask for any kind of documentation but have considered that some of their students might be undocumented. Even though many schools didn’t have policies in place, there was a hunger for more information about how to implement best practices for undocumented students.

Swarthmore College is the only Quaker-affiliated college to declare itself a sanctuary campus and only did so after direct pressure from students. Bryn Mawr, Earlham, Haverford, and Whittier colleges all follow sanctuary-type policies (supporting DACA students, not participating in E-Verify and not allowing ICE on campus without a signed warrant), but none have taken the step of using sanctuary language.

Beyond creating a safe learning environment for undocumented students, there is the possibility of Quaker schools using the same model as Quaker meetings and other churches who have taken individuals into sanctuary. ICE policy is to avoiding raiding schools as well as places of worship—how powerful would it be to offer sanctuary in 71 schools across the country? How powerful would it be to include radical actions like providing sanctuary as part of a Quaker education?

It’s more complicated than simply telling Quaker schools to be better. There are very few models for this kind of resistance, and many real concerns, such as becoming a target for enforcement or how sanctuary might interfere with a school’s relationships with the government agencies that issue student visas. Some of these fears have answers, but others will require experiments and test cases.

AFSC and PYM want to help connect Quaker schools to the resources that already exist. AFSC has gathered resources used by public schools as part of the “Sanctuary Everywhere” initiative. All of these documents could be translated into Quaker language that adds the weight of our faith to a moral imperative. Once these resources exist, we can begin to encourage Quaker schools to do more in a time of crisis.

So, if you’re a student, teacher, administrator, or board member at a Quaker school, consider using the Quaker Social Change Ministry manual with a group of students to form an accompaniment team, or think about how to adapt the board policy language and classroom instructional materials on AFSC’s Sanctuary in Schools webpage for your school. There are also guides for organizing protests in support of sanctuary policies.

Whatever you do, keep in touch with AFSC and PYM! Let us know what else you need to make your school a sanctuary.

–Emily McGrew, Quaker Voluntary Service Alumni Fellow, American Friends Service Committee