Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients at the University of Arizona have penned a letter that was released today in response to a Customs and Border Patrol presence at the university’s main campus on Tuesday, March 19 in the Modern Languages building. CBP agents were guests of an event hosted by the Criminal Justice Association, a university club. There was no previous school-wide announcement that CBP agents would be present on campus that day.
Student activists protested and confronted the CBP agents’ unexpected presence. President Robert Robbins indicated in a school-wide email on Friday, March 29 that university police determined they will be charging two students with interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution, a misdemeanor crime.
In the email, Robbins wrote that the university is committed to free speech, but the student club and the CBP officers should have been able to hold their event without disruption. “Student protest is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not,” he wrote.
The letter from DACA students titled “We Will Not Be Silent” states:
“Tucson, AZ – Everyday, the presence of law enforcement threatens the existence of Black, brown, indigenous, queer and trans, refugee and undocumented communities. The discomfort and fear we face at the sight of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is overwhelming. Pervasive detentions and family separations have been a reality outside of the boundaries of the University of Arizona. Just these last two weeks, we are aware of at least 10 Border Patrol interactions with immigrants in Tucson. One of them occurred on Tuesday March 19th when Customs and Border Patrol detained three members of an immigrant family, including a 12 year old daughter. After this detention, the father was deported. While this family was being separated, Customs and Border Patrol was on the University of Arizona campus recruiting students.
As DACA recipients at the university, the presence of CBP on campus has a traumatic impact on our overall well being and impedes us from fully engaging with our academics. In a space where all students are given the right to pursue an education, their presence was and will always be an infringement on that right.
Students at the UA decided to bravely stand up and be vocal about the threat Customs and Border Patrol’s presence creates for our community. Their action is to be applauded and admired because they put their community before themselves and acted to protect us. After the video of their interaction with CBP was released, the students were bombarded with threats to their physical and emotional well being; something that has not been acknowledged by media outlets. The students were recently harassed and persecuted by law enforcement agencies and officers, including the Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council. Agent Art Del Cuento, called on the ‘university to investigate whether students violated the university’s code of conduct or state law regarding disorderly conduct.’ This agency not only terrorizes our communities on the day to day, but also actively works to silence students who speak out. Soon thereafter, the University’s President Robbins announced that two students would be facing criminal charges; proving, again, the swiftness with which institutions criminalize people of color.
As DACA recipients, we are in full support of the students who spoke out on our defense. We do not tolerate any form of harassment and marginalization that comes from Customs and Border Patrol. We appreciate, value, and are here for the allies who our (sic) now being persecuted.
Signed in solidarity,
DACA recipients at the University of Arizona”
Robbins’ university-wide email was as follows:
March 29, 2019
Dear Campus Community,
I want to update you on developments regarding last week’s incident with the Border Patrol officers on campus and to reaffirm the University of Arizona’s relationship with the leadership and the women and men serving in U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The incident between the protesting students and the Criminal Justice club members was a dramatic departure from our expectations of respectful behavior and support for free speech on this campus.
University police determined today they will be charging two of the students with interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution, a misdemeanor.
The UA Police Department will continue to investigate the incident for additional criminal violations, and the Office of the Dean of Students is reviewing potential violations of the student code of conduct. There also will be a probe into actions involving UA employees.
The University has policies and protocols for behavior and expression, and we are following those. However, I have assigned university staff to examine our processes to ensure we are working effectively to help prevent similar incidents in the future while maintaining the 1st Amendment right to free speech and protest.
At the core of these inquiries is the University of Arizona’s commitment to free speech. The student club and the CBP officers invited by the students should have been able to hold their meeting without disruption. Student protest is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not.
As a community of scholars, we need to be more thoughtful and deliberative in how we approach these issues and work together to sustain vigorous conversations to find better solutions.
Robert C. Robbins
The University of Arizona