college walkouts_1
Students walk out to push for sanctuary campuses
00:52 - Source: CNN

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Story highlights

NEW: Protester at New York University: "We feel very threatened"

Some students say they want to make their school a "sanctuary campus"

CNN  — 

College campuses have become new battlegrounds over immigration as student protests pick up around the US in the wake of last week’s presidential election.

At universities across the country, students were walking out Wednesday.

Their aim: Pressuring officials to make their school a “sanctuary campus” that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

The protests came a week after the election of Donald Trump, who’s said that deporting millions of undocumented immigrants will be a top priority once he takes office.

What’s a sanctuary campus?

That depends who you ask. Petitions have been circulating at a number of schools over the past few days. Some ask universities to declare their support for undocumented students publicly. Others ask for more specific measures, such as guarantees that the school won’t release information on students’ immigration status and that university police forces won’t team up with the feds in deportation raids.

“Different campuses are doing different things,” said Vera Parra, an organizer with Cosecha Movement. “Actions are not necessarily directed at school administration, but about supporting undocumented students on campuses and their fears about what can happen to them and their families under a Donald Trump administration.”

What are protesters saying?

New York University students were among the first to walk out Wednesday.

They packed part of Washington Square Park, calling out demands for the school to become a sanctuary and vowing to fight any government immigration crackdowns.

An enthusiastic crowd repeated each speaker’s words, line by line.

“We are unstoppable,” the crowd chanted.

But not everyone agreed. A man walking by yelled a response: “You can’t stop Trump.”

Hannah Fullerton, a junior at the school who helped organized the protest, said she’s determined to try.

“We know that President-elect Trump could easily change a lot of policies, and we feel very threatened by that,” she said. “This is a moment where it’s not about whether you’re personally affected anymore. We have a duty to not just do something because it affects us, but because it affects those next to us, our neighbors, our community.”

Pia Iribarren, a graduate student who’s undocumented, said she and many others could be at risk if Trump rescinds the program that gives relief from deportation to immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“I didn’t think we’d actually get to this moment,” said Iribarren, who immigrated to the United States from Chile when she was a toddler. “And yet, here we are.”

Echoing the message, students from East Los Angeles College held a march Wednesday. The campus is located in the heart of the city’s Latino enclave.

Nearly 5,000 of some 30,000 students are undocumented, Marvin Martinez, President of East Los Angeles College, told CNN.

California privacy laws will protect anyone from trying to access the identities of the students to determine who’s documented and who isn’t, Martinez said.

Who else is participating?

5 key things anti-Trump protesters want

In addition to NYU, organizers say students from about 80 schools around the country are protesting.

A map released by organizers shows dozens of campuses. The map isn’t official. People can sign up to place their campus on the map with an online form. But it gives a sense of where we might start to see protests popping up.

An unofficial map shows locations of schools that students want designated as sanctuary campuses.

What do others think?

Word of the protests sparked a swift backlash on Twitter, where some users slammed students for participating.

Many said students shouldn’t expect their college campuses to protect them. Some called for funding to be cut to schools that pursued a sanctuary campus policy.

How have universities responded?

Some school officials have expressed support for students. But according to Inside Higher Ed, some schools have responded with statements suggesting that when it comes to cooperating with federal authorities, their hands are tied.

Wesleyan University President Michael Roth said in a statement that he’s weighing the idea.

“In the coming days and weeks I will discuss this option with the appropriate offices and Trustees,” he wrote. “I will report back to the campus on what we can do in this regard.

Where does this idea come from?

In recent years, local governments across the country have been in the spotlight for fighting back against federal immigration enforcement by calling themselves sanctuary cities.

Trump made them a focus on the campaign trail, pledging to block funding for cities that take that tack.

More than 200 state and local jurisdictions have policies that call for not honoring US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests, the agency’s director, Sarah Saldaña, told Congress last year.

There’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, county or state, and what it means varies from place to place.

CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Isabelle Chapman, Chris Welch, Maria Santana and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.