Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
On Oct. 23, DCist reporters uncovered an active contract between the University of Maryland and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the latest revelation of the school’s hypocrisy. To top it off, the university is simultaneously celebrating its “Year of Immigration,” a public relations stunt to put a band-aid on their rapidly-deteriorating reputation as a school that values diversity and inclusion. The university must immediately cancel this contract if it seeks to protect its students.
ICE is the government agency responsible for deporting more than 200,000 people in 2017 and separating more than 2,000 children from their parents. In a Trump administration-directed crackdown, ICE has conducted raids in neighborhoods with immigrant populations — including in neighboring Langley Park, just down the road from College Park. Agents show up in unmarked uniforms with guns, effectively terrorizing innocent residents so that they’re afraid to leave their homes.
After learning about the contract, Laura Bohorquez, the university’s undocumented student program coordinator, released an information sheet to student leaders at the Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society general body meeting on Monday, Oct. 29. The information sheet reported that the university has one active contract that covers up to 25 two-day training sessions for ICE officials.
After Bohorquez relayed her legitimate concerns for the well-being of undocumented students and students from families of mixed immigration status, university officials responded by saying that the contract is to provide “cultural competency and counterterrorism training to homeland security special agents who are stationed at embassies abroad.”
But student leaders are not satisfied with that answer. Regardless of what kind of training the university is giving, it is still “providing material support to a deportation force,” in the words of Daniel Greene, an information studies professor.
Greene says that the contract “sends the wrong message to our immigrant students here on campus. If we want our immigrant students to do well here on campus, they can’t be scared for their lives.”
Blanca Arriola Palma, president of PLUMAS and a senior government and politics major, said that “being associated with an institution that’s directly targeting your family or your relatives or friends — it is a slap in the face.”
President Wallace Loh refused student leaders’ calls to make this campus a sanctuary campus in 2016, and now we may have some insight as to why.
Yvonne Slosarski, interim associate director of the Honors Humanities program, said that it’s “no surprise that we didn’t know anything about the ICE contract because the university tends to be very secretive about its operations.”
The news of the ICE contract is one of many recent contributions to a hostile, xenophobic environment at this university. University employees were admonished by their manager for speaking Spanish at work. Anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and ableist language have been found in university dorms. International students — forced to pay additional student fees — have struggled with mental health issues and “have been afraid to say when anything is going wrong,” Slosarski said. The list goes on, and given this university’s complacency, it’ll only continue to grow.
If this university hopes to salvage what’s left of its “Year of Immigration” public relations cover-up, it must stop pretending to support “international diversity” while actively endangering its diverse international student body.
Instead, the university must devote its resources to defending immigrant students. Make the undocumented student program coordinator position permanent. Declare the campus a sanctuary campus. Oppose the discriminatory, racist rhetoric and policies perpetuated by our federal government. The urgency has never been greater.
Olivia Delaplaine is a senior government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.