'Sanctuary campus' leaders admit that colleges can't ban ICE

Organizers of Wednesday’s “sanctuary campus” walkouts fear that colleges lack the authority to bar immigration agencies from campus, but hope that “public confrontation” will intimidate the government into submission.

[RELATED: National walkout seeks 'sanctuary' for illegal immigrant students]

Screenshots of a mass group chat between leaders of the movement were obtained by Campus Reform, revealing that their consultations with legal counsel left the activists with little confidence in the prospect of actually converting college campuses into so-called sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.

As a last resort, though, one organizer suggested that fear and “confrontation” would be the best, and perhaps only, method that would effectively prevent organizations such as the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency from entering campus.

“As an organizer, I am going to close with this,” wrote Carlos Rojas, an apparent leader of the sanctuary campus movement. “What is going to prevent ICE from coming into our campuses is not a policy or legal document. ICE more than anything else is afraid of a public confrontation and community outrage.”

Several other organizers in the conversation agreed with his suggestion, saying “Yes Carlos!” and praising his sentiment with a digital thumbs-up.

Rojas later reiterated the claim, saying the group’s members “want campuses to be publicly outraged if ICE enters a campus and/or if our universities are sharing students’ and workers’ private info with immigration agencies.”

Then again, in response to a “legal question” from another protester in the chat, Rojas admitted that ICE has the authority to enter campus “under specific circumstances,” but explains that they “are asking for campuses to say that ICE is not welcomed in our campuses period.”

One organizer even conceded that campuses wishing to “declare themselves a sanctuary campus” would risk “losing all of [their] federal funding, essentially causing [them] to shut down,” leading her to ask if anyone had any “suggestions on how to work through this.”

Indeed, another organizer informed the group that she had received word from a legal aid with the Southern Poverty Law center, who wrote that “it sounds like, unless people come up with a novel legal strategy, that universities can’t legally protect students from deportation.”

The group’s legal counsel, whose name was given as “Azadeh Shashahani,” explained that ICE would still need “to show a warrant for arrest or an excuse for not having one and otherwise needs to comply with the 4th Amendment,” then assured the group that she will “let you know if anyone puts forth a good new legal argument on this.”

“This is of course no reason for universities and student groups not to try building sanctuary spaces and defend them people’s power,” she added

In one instance, an apparent leader of the Rutgers University walkout admitted that some professors had offered students extra credit to participate and even cancelled class, saying that was “one of the key factors in getting the turnout we did.”

[RELATED: Pomona College sends students to protest Trump]

Additionally, he went on to explain that he was able to win the support of local union leaders, who apparently helped convince professors to participate in the walkout and cooperate with student leaders.

“Getting union support in reaching out to professors who then told their students about the walkout, cancelled class, and gave extra credit to go, was one of the key factors in getting the turnout we did,” he wrote, adding that it helped having “one of the most left-wing union locals in the country at RU, but that model can be replicated in the future.”

Organizers of the movement have also compiled a list of legal questions to present to consultants from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—such as “if my campus refuses to cooperate with ICE, can they actually lose state or federal funding?” and “what are the legal issues with public universities paying for legal representation for their undocumented students?”—indicating that they remain uncertain of the feasibility of even implementing their demands.

The ACLU’s responses to the group’s questions had not been posted in the chat by press time.

[RELATED: Students demand 'sanctuary campuses' to protect them from Trump]

In addition to their legal concerns, the protest organizers also encountered difficulties controlling their message on social media and in the press.

During Wednesday’s walkouts, participants in the chat began to collectively panic when they realized that their social media effort had been compromised by the alt-right, and responded by encouraging protesters to flood their Twitter and Facebook accounts with the “#SanctuaryCampus” hashtag.

“Trolls are winning share share share seize the narrative,” one protester exclaimed, with Rojas explaining that they needed to “push back on internet trolls.”

“We need to take control of the narrative,” another agreed, with one noticing that “about 90 percent of what” he saw was “from the other side.”

“Please, please tell all your members to start flooding the hashtag ASAP a lot of right wing people are already making it theirs,” one panicked as an additional protester pronounced that they “cannot lose the court of public opinion.”

Later in the day, when the walkouts caught the attention of several local and national media outlets, leaders of the movement encouraged their compatriots to turn down interviews with conservative-leaning outlets, particularly Bill O'Reilly's show, the “O'Reilly Factor,” who they warned would attract a “white nationalist” audience.

“Bill O'Reilly reached out for an interview. We feel like we’re not ready, it could add to negative/white nationalist attention we don’t want,” one organizer explained, instructing students to “let her know if anyone reaches out to you and don’t take the interview.”

It appears, though, that some of the leaders of the movement simply lacked the confidence to articulate their platform clearly, since one organizer responded by saying they need “someone who can eloquently articulate what they’re standing for.”

He agreed, however, that while O’Reilly would “raise white nationalist attention,” he may “also illustrate why other should stand as well,” suggesting that if someone were able to “put across our message without letting O’Reilly slip them up, and show his hypocrisy on the way, it would go viral.”

Campus Correspondents Cameron Westbrook, Tyler Palermo, and Emma Meshell contributed to this article.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski