At Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, President Thuy Nguyen is racing against time to figure out ways the community college can be a safe haven -- both legally and in spirit -- for its undocumented students, of which there are close to 400.
Like many school officials across the country, Nguyen is anticipating a crackdown on illegal immigration, which president-elect Donald Trump has promised, and considering what it would mean for Foothill College to declare itself a "sanctuary campus."
"The legal ramification" of the term, said Nguyen, a lawyer and herself an immigrant, "is basically a communication to the Trump administration that there will be a resistance."
Since the election students and faculty across the country have lobbied for their institutions to declare themselves sanctuary campuses, a term inspired by sanctuary cities that vow not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. A petition calling on Stanford University to take this action has collected more than 2,000 signatures from student, faculty and alumni.
A group of Palo Alto parents penned a letter to the school board this week asking for the district's trustees to "show unusual courage in the face of the great potential harm posed by the Trump administration" and declare Palo Alto schools as sanctuaries for immigrant families.
The board, in turn, expressed strong support on Tuesday for a resolution that designates Palo Alto Unified schools as "safe sanctuaries" for students and families from immigration enforcement officials.
As Jan. 20 fast approaches, however, school officials are considering what the amorphous term actually means, with some eying ways to go beyond what they say is at this point a mostly symbolic declaration.
The Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees this week unanimously approved two resolutions, one that calls on Trump to continue the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors to stay in the country and attend school; and a second that states the community college district will not release student records, unless authorized by a student or required by law, to nor cooperate with any federal or state effort to create a registry of people based on any legally protected characteristics, such as religion, national origin, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. The district also resolved not to detain, question or arrest any students solely on the basis of their immigration status.
Foothill College is exploring more concrete ways to support and protect its undocumented students.
"When you talk about or work or serve communities that have always been living in fear or living within a level of anxiety and then now it's accelerated, and rightly so that it's accelerated in light of the language of our politics today, we have to do things that are really authentic and true to what they need -- not surface work," Nguyen said. "That's why I think we have to be thoughtful around that process and not be too quick to react to certain things that may be popular to do but are not necessarily helpful."
Nguyen, along with the De Anza College president and the community college district's chancellor, joined hundreds of college and university presidents, including Stanford's, in signing a letter that calls for the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She has reminded staff that any federal request for student information must go through her office and said at an immigration panel at Foothill last month that her default response will be to demand a court subpoena to release anything. She is also reviewing all of the community college's processes and forms to identify where students might be asked to share their undocumented status or addresses, for example, to see if there are actual legal requirements for doing so and assess whether Foothill could legally waive such a requirement.
"If there is no legal ability to make such changes, then we will also explore possible legislative changes in Sacramento," Nguyen said.
Nguyen is also convening a group of administrators and faculty.
"What we are doing is exploring everything we could do that constitutes what one would call a sanctuary college without necessarily declaring that," she said.
Nguyen is not alone in her hesitation. While some U.S. schools have answered their communities' calls to label themselves sanctuary campuses, others have decided against doing so. Harvard University's president, for example, chose not to, stating that it "offers no actual protection to our students. I worry that in fact it offers false and misleading assurance."
Other campus leaders have worried it could also draw unwanted attention from immigration officials to their undocumented students.
Palo Alto school board Vice President Ken Dauber expressed similar concerns about a resolution proposed by two of his colleagues at Tuesday's board meeting. The draft resolution declares Palo Alto schools to be "sanctuaries for students to the fullest extent allowed by law."
While not disagreeing with the resolution's intent, he worried it amounts to "over-promising."
"The fact is that we can be non-cooperative with the federal government to the extent permitted by law. We cannot unfortunately guarantee the safety of students in our schools," he said. "I don't want to create in people a false impression about what's possible to do."
Board President Terry Godfrey, who with trustee Melissa Baten Caswell drafted the resolution, told the Weekly that that sanctuary is "more of an attitude and position you take to reaffirm your value of your students."
Stanford, meanwhile, affirmed its support for students regardless of immigration status after the election. The university does not collect or share information about students' immigration statuses and would not provide such information to law enforcement unless legally required.
The university will "advocate for (federal) policies consistent with its commitment to members of our community who are undocumented," Stanford said. "Our support for all members of our community, including undocumented students, remains firm."
Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, whose jurisdiction includes East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, said she is not worried that making sanctuary declarations could actually harm rather than protect students. To decide against establishing educational institutions as safe spaces in today's political climate, she said, is an "abdication of responsibility."
"Education is not just about academics. It really involves looking at the common good and some very basic acknowledgment of civil liberties and human rights," she told the Weekly. "I think as educators, we have to stand up."
Ravenswood, for its part, is also considering a resolution that will reaffirm its protections for undocumented students and families, including refusing to share information with the federal government that "jeopardizes the safety and well-being of our children," Hernandez-Goff said. The city also plans to more widely disseminate information about its longtime sanctuary status, she said.
Since Trump's election, undocumented immigrants have become worried about the government having access to personal information they provided when signing up for protections afforded under the Obama administration or locally, from DACA to a new California law that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.
In East Palo Alto, some Ravenswood parents refused to sign their children up for free and reduced lunch at the start of this school year, Hernandez-Goff said, explicitly fearful of giving the government their information.
The specifics of Trump's immigration policy remain to be seen, and they may be changing from his pre-election rhetoric: In a TIME Magazine interview last week, he indicated he would consider the situations of immigrants who have been able to attend school and work without threat of deportation under the executive action.
"We will work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," he told TIME.
Trump, however, is also still committed to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has said he plans to immediately deport millions of undocumented immigrants with criminal records after his inauguration in January (a softening from his campaign promise to deport all of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants).
After he secures the border, Trump said in a Nov. 13 interview on the TV show "60 Minutes," he will consider how to address those who are undocumented but do not have criminal records, whom he called "terrific people."