Community members advocate to create sanctuary in Eshleman Hall at ASUC meeting

Brianna Luna/Staff

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The ASUC Senate met for its weekly meeting Wednesday night and approved several resolutions and funding for clubs, in addition to hearing from community members looking to make Eshleman Hall a sanctuary for immigrants.

The meeting was opened by two guest speakers: Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, the campus vice provost for academic planning, and Alicia Johnson, the director of the UC Berkeley Office of Emergency Management. Both discussed upcoming initiatives and focuses for this year, which involve campus seismic safety, as well as how they see the ASUC senators fitting into their respective departments.

“We want you to look out for the people you represent as members of the student body,” Johnson said to the senators at the meeting.

She added that the senators could do this by being “good role models” of emergency disaster preparedness.

The senators passed a slew of committee appointments, in addition to two bills — one designating October as National Zero Waste Month and another in support of last week’s climate strike — and two financial allocations to various campus clubs.

The Zero Waste bill and one of the financial bills passed unanimously. The climate walkout bill and one of the financial allocations passed with a vote of 19-1, with only Senator Milton Zerman in opposition. Zerman said during the meeting that he could not condone students skipping class, and he felt as if the allocations to certain clubs on campus were too high.

The action heightened at the meeting during public comment, when six students and community members from the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, advocated for their plan to convert Eshleman Hall into a sanctuary for immigrants and presented the senators with a petition of more than 1,000 signatures.

According to BAMN organizer and campus junior Stephanie Gutierrez, immigrants facing deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, would be able to seek refuge in Eshleman Hall. She added that the designation of sanctuary would have no legal standing, but the group plans to organize students in shifts to defend and blockade the building if necessary.

“Eshleman Hall is owned by the ASUC student government, so it is within their means to make it (a sanctuary),” Gutierrez said. “Because it is a space that they operate in, they should be making a statement that they support the immigrant community on campus.”

Before the senate meeting, BAMN organized a rally to demand that Eshleman Hall be designated a sanctuary with about 20 to 30 people in attendance. The protesters rallied on Sproul Plaza around noon, then marched around campus, ending at Eshleman Hall.

In addition to a sanctuary designation for Eshleman Hall, the protesters demanded that campus enrollment of underrepresented students double and that administration restore the Latin American studies department.

“It’s time now to not just talk,” said BAMN community organizer Yvette Felarca at the meeting. “It’s time for action. It’s no longer the time for moderation.”

Andy Theocharous, the ASUC executive vice president, who manages space issues in Eshleman Hall, said he had no intention of turning the hall into a sanctuary. He added that the city of Berkeley is already a sanctuary, as is campus, which he supports. He said that Eshleman Hall, however, needs to be primarily a “student space.” 

The BAMN organizers said they will continue to fight, even if the ASUC does not agree to make the hall a sanctuary.

Gutierrez said she plans to continue collecting signatures. She added that they will also be continuing their “Don’t Walk On By” campaign, which involves knocking on doors in different neighborhoods in Berkeley and creating a system of notifications for spreading the word if ICE is spotted.

“Whether or not you support us, we will have success for this official acknowledgment of these plans,” BAMN organizer Abel de la Cruz said at the meeting. “It’s not just having a safe space but an active, defensive space for our people.”

Kate Finman is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.