ICE isn’t welcome at Northwestern

June 8, 2017

Jack Kelley and Brandon Kik report on the campaign to defend Northwestern University activists who face discipline for protesting a campus event featuring ICE.

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY (NU) administrators are going after students who protested the appearance of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representative on campus in May--but the students and their supporters are determined not to be silenced.

On May 26, some 50 students and faculty gathered for a protest, organized by Northwestern's MEChA chapter, outside the student activities center, where administrators were holding a conduct hearing for members of the Coalition of Students for Immigrant Justice who participated in a direct action on May 16.

The activists were part of a larger protest by students voicing their opposition to the ICE public relations representative, who was invited to visit a sociology class. Protesters entered the class during the ICE agent's presentation and demanded to know why he was invited to NU's campus.

The action made international news when the ICE representative's presentation was shut down, forcing him to leave before the class period was over.

Beth Redbird, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, said she invited the ICE representative to visit the class, which covered social inequality, to explain how the agency's Chicago field office works within the larger law enforcement structure of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. A Department of Justice representative was also going to speak during the class, Redbird said.

Students protest an ICE official invited to speak at Northwestern University
Students protest an ICE official invited to speak at Northwestern University (Colin Boyle | The Daily Northwestern)

Redbird also invited an undocumented, pro-immigrant rights student activist to the class and planned for both the ICE representative and undocumented student to answer questions in two separate class periods.

When word got around about the guest speaker, activists from MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color, and Rainbow Alliance--which make up NU's Coalition of Students for Immigrant Justice--organized a protest against the presence of an ICE agent on campus and the potential threat it posed to immigrant students.

University spokesperson Al Cubbage told The Daily Northwestern after the demonstration that it was "disappointing that the speakers were not allowed to speak." A few days later, several students received notices to appear before a conduct hearing on May 26 for their involvement in the protest. The outcome of the conduct hearing was still unclear as this article was being written.

IMMIGRANTS ON campus, documented and undocumented, have every right to be disappointed that NU invited ICE, an organization that targets and terrorizes immigrants, to propagandize on campus.

When students protested ICE on May 16, they were using their right to free speech to expose what this agency stands for and what its agents do.

ICE raids, which have escalated under Donald Trump, have spread fear through immigrant communities. Members of these communities are now fearful of daily activities like grocery shopping and dropping children off at school--or already traumatizing experiences like appearing in court as a victim of domestic abuse.

Welcoming a representative of ICE onto campus is a threat to all immigrants or non-citizens, including students from abroad, as ICE has already shown little regard for the documentation status of any foreign-born person in the U.S. In March, an ICE agent shot a father in front of his family, none of whom were undocumented, in his own home in Chicago.

The administration is standing by its attack. Cubbage told The Daily Northwestern: "The university believes very much that if you have concerns about an idea or position, the solution is not to censor or prevent someone from expressing those ideas, it is to provide more discussion and more discourse. More speech is better than no speech."

Cubbage and other NU officials would like paint protesters as taking away freedom of speech from ICE agents, but students and faculty have a right--and in the face of such injustice, a responsibility--to use their free speech and speak out against the Trump administration's policy of targeting immigrants through ICE raids that are carried out with impunity.

In fact, there are few government institutions more opposed to the rights of free speech and association than ICE, especially now that it is specifically detaining immigrant activists organizing for justice in their communities.

As socialists, we are committed to the expansion of democracy, which includes standing up to government institutions or right-wing bigots who spread hate. We need democratic organizations and movements to oppose bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.

This also means exposing the hypocrisy of complaints that there's a danger of ICE representatives having their rights taken away.

"We're not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, 'Oh, let's listen to their side of it,' because that's making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence," April Navarro, a Northwestern sophomore who helped organize the protest, told the Daily Northwestern.

"We're not engaging in those kinds of things--it legitimizes ICE's violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There's an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses."

As another protest organizer said in an interview:

There's no way you can have an equal relation between a state institution and someone in that institutional apparatus. If you are going to have dialogue, it has to be between equals. There had been talk about how we 'limited' free speech and the opportunity for free speech and academic freedom. The whole conception of free speech protects dominant narratives--free speech for who is what I would ask."

NORTHWESTERN STUDENTS are building support for undocumented students and a climate on campus where the presence of ICE is unacceptable by publishing a list of demands on the administration, which was published through the Immigrant Justice Project.

These demands include the declaration of Northwestern as a sanctuary campus; services and scholarships for undocumented students, which students are able to access with anonymity; expansion of the Latin American and Asian American studies programs into full departments; and more courses that "have an emphasis on intersectional ethnic studies which include but are not limited to race, class, gender, sexuality and indigeneity."

Activists are also demanding that students within these newly established departments participate in decisions made about staff, faculty and courses.

While institutions like NU punish those on the left for using free speech, an emboldened far right is attempting to organize on campuses and provoke confrontations under the guise of supposed attacks on their rights.

Establishment voices, liberal or conservative, would rather prioritize so-called "civilized debate" than the safety of human beings on and off campuses, and so they are more than happy to protect bigots' rights to speak out.

University administrators have demonstrated that they aren't on our side in this fight. Activists need our own approach for countering the influence of anti-immigrant bigots, which emphasizes organizing all those who oppose anti-immigrant attacks to stand up to reaction on campus and elsewhere.

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