Before a crowd of more than 100 civic and business leaders, Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong on Friday vowed to resist federal immigration operations on campus and defy all requests for information about undocumented students, even if it lands him behind bars.
“If it’s about release of information, we’re not going to cooperate. If they end up on campus, we’re not going to cooperate,” Chong said. “We will engage in civil disobedience and I will be willing to go to jail in order to protect the rights of my students.”
Chong’s defiant words came during a packed, noontime forum on Latinos and education, held in the main lobby of Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. The forum, which was hosted by Los Cien, Sonoma County’s largest Latino leadership organization, also featured Judy Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University, and Diane Kitamura, superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools.
Sakaki and Kitamura both echoed Chong’s commitment to educating all students, regardless of their immigration status.
“We have a pact to help each other out if we end up going to jail,” said Kitamura, adding that she has made it clear to immigration officials that they must go through her office before initiating any operation at a school site.
Sakaki said there are “several hundred” undocumented students enrolled at Sonoma State and she would do all that she could to support them. “I have said publicly, there will be no walls at Sonoma State and I got hate mail,” she said.
The pledges by top administrators echoed public commitments approved last year by trustees overseeing the three school systems, seeking to assure students and the community that they would not enable federal enforcement efforts. Public school districts and colleges statewide made similar pledges.
The discussion comes as congressional leaders debate how to extend some legal protection to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants nationwide before a March 5 deadline that would end their reprieve from deportation. About 3,000 young immigrants in Sonoma County enjoyed such protection under an Obama-era program that President Donald Trump ended. The White House and bipartisan leaders in Congress now appear far apart on how to shield those so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
During the 90-minute forum in Santa Rosa, the three education officials also discussed efforts to increase access to higher education among local students and the devastating impact of last year’s wildfires on student enrollment, particularly at Santa Rosa City Schools and the junior college.
The fires forced the closure of the college campus for two weeks, Chong noted. He said 900 students and 61 faculty and college staff lost homes during the fires.
In the months after the fires, Chong said SRJC’s enrollment dropped by 200 students. For the spring semester, enrollment is down about 300 students, he said.
“Housing is key, we’re looking at building dorms on campus for the first time,” Chong said, adding that the school is putting together a request for proposals, seeking bidders for a public-private partnership that could help create more housing.
Chong called on local elected officials to accelerate housing construction to stem the loss of students, faculty and staff.
“It’s going to require the city and county to really step up and build more housing, more affordable housing, teacher housing, and we’ll be working hand-in-hand with them,” he said.