Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer
Students protested the visit of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement public relations officer to campus Tuesday, saying the representative’s presence on campus could be dangerous and hurtful for undocumented people at Northwestern.
Members of 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 gathered outside Harris Hall as the unidentified ICE representative began a guest presentation for Sociology 201. The class, taught by Prof. Beth Redbird, focuses on examining “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender,” according to its syllabus.
The class began at 3:30 p.m., around the time when student demonstrators entered Harris Hall, holding banners and chanting “F—k ICE” outside the classroom. Protesting students were told by University administrators at the scene, including dean of students Todd Adams, that they would be allowed into Redbird’s class if they did not disrupt the presentation.
Students then walked into the classroom but did not sit down, instead holding up banners and asking Redbird why she invited the ICE representative and if she had considered the possible effect the visit may have on undocumented students or students who know someone who has been detained by the federal agency.
ICE, a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, implements immigration, customs and border control laws. During the demonstration, student protesters said ICE is responsible for the separation of families with undocumented members.
The agency, which is in charge of investigating, arresting, detaining and removing foreigners from the country, has been criticized for its arrest methods, treatment of detainees and detention center conditions. Earlier this year, ICE led a series of raids across the country where half of the detained were undocumented immigrants with no criminal records or minor offenses.
Soon after demonstrators entered the class, the ICE representative left the room and Redbird stayed to answer students’ questions. Redbird said she invited the ICE representative so they would explain to students how the agency works.
Redbird, who joined Northwestern last year, told demonstrators she invited the ICE public relations officer to speak to students as one half of a two-class discussion.
“All they did was come here today to answer questions so that you know what’s going on, so that you are informed and so that you can make decisions,” she told students. “If you want to make change in a community, you need to know what’s going on.”
Redbird said she planned to have an undocumented person visit the class Thursday as the second half of the discussion, but during the protest she decided to cancel the presentation over fears for the speaker’s safety and privacy.
Some student demonstrators left the room after expressing their concerns, saying they did not want to discuss Redbird’s motivations. Others stayed in the room and told Redbird and her students that inviting an ICE representative could be hurtful to some.
Redbird dismissed the class at 3:45 p.m. because of the protests, but most in the room stayed to listen to the discussion between Redbird and the demonstrators.
SESP sophomore April Navarro, a MEChA member who helped organize the protest, told The Daily though having the representative on campus might have come from the idea of having a “good, nice conversation with ICE,” the agency and its representatives shouldn’t come to NU because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor.
“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,” Navarro said. “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.”
Redbird told The Daily she invited protesters into the classroom to engage in dialogue with both the ICE officer and her students, and that she wanted her students to know why the protesters were there as well. Redbird’s students were notified two weeks ago there would be an ICE officer as a guest speaker, Redbird said, and they were given readings to prepare for the discussion, which was intended to be based on policy. A Department of Justice representative was also going to speak during Tuesday’s class, Redbird said.
Several protesters asked Redbird during the demonstration why she didn’t have the officers answer the classes’ questions via email or Skype. Redbird said she wanted to have a more engaging dialogue.
University spokesman Al Cubbage told The Daily after the demonstration that it was “disappointing that the speakers were not allowed to speak.”
Professors, Cubbage said, may invite whomever they like to speak to their classes. He said it was unfortunate that Redbird’s speakers could not share their experiences with the class.
“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,” Cubbage said. “More speech is better than no speech.”
Redbird told The Daily she intended to provide her students with the opportunity to learn from the ICE officer.
“In our society, knowledge is power, and I want to make my students as powerful as possible,” she said. “When we keep ourselves ignorant, we deny ourselves power.”
But demonstrating students told The Daily freedom of speech is often used to defend views that can be damaging to some. They said demonstrators were using their own freedom of speech by voicing their concern about the ICE representative.
“There are people who would be listening to this ICE representative and agreeing with them and maybe one day becoming an ICE agent or co-signing and supporting them and that in itself is violence,” said Communication sophomore Danielle Douge, a MEChA and BLMNU member at the demonstration. “I had a right to be in that building and I had the right to speak and say whatever I wanted. I had the right myself to tell her I don’t want the ICE person on this campus.”
Nora Shelly contributed reporting.
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