In Other Ivory Towers: Universities protest ICE

Irene Loewenson

In Other Ivory Towers is the Record’s look at colleges and universities outside the Purple Bubble. In the past several weeks, two universities have weathered controversy over interactions with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Harvard University

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s daily student newspaper, is facing criticism over its decision to request comment from ICE for a Sept. 13 article about a campus rally protesting the agency.

In the article, “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement,” the Crimson had reported on an anti-ICE protest led by Act on a Dream, a student-led immigration advocacy group. The article noted that ICE had not responded to a request for comment.

In an online petition, Act on a Dream condemned the Crimson’s decision to contact ICE. “We are extremely disappointed in the cultural insensitivity displayed by The Crimson’s policy to reach out to ICE, a government agency with a long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them,” the petition read. Act on a Dream demanded that the Crimson apologize “for the harm they inflicted on the undocumented community” and refrain from contacting ICE for comment in the future.

The president and managing editor of the Crimson wrote in a note to its readers on Oct. 22 that the newspaper stands by the decision to request comment from ICE.

“At stake here, we believe, is one of the core tenets that defines America’s free and independent press: the right — and prerogative — of reporters to contact any person or organization relevant to a story to seek that entity’s comment and view of what transpired,” they wrote. “This ensures the article is as thorough, balanced, and unbiased toward any particular viewpoint as possible.”

The University of Pennsylvania

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) shut down a controversial event featuring a former top ICE official due to a disruptive student protest. 

The event was planned as a forum on immigration policy and was to include former Acting Director Thomas Homan, who served under President Donald Trump from January 2017 to June 2018, as well as the former ICE public advocate and the former city solicitor of Philadelphia.

As the event was about to begin, student protesters in the room where the forum was set to take place loudly chanted, “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here,” and “Go home, Homan,” according to The Daily Pennsylvanian

These chants continued for 15 minutes, after which the organizers hurried the speakers off the stage and canceled the event.

In an online petition, over 500 Penn students and alumni had demanded that the university cancel the event. 

“Under Homan, ICE continued to be a violent organization responsible for terrorizing immigrant communities, for the separation of immigrant families, and for the persistent violation of the human rights of immigrants and their loved ones,” the petition read. “Consequently, inviting Homan as a guest speaker contradicts Penn’s claim of being a sanctuary campus that is committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of all of its students.” 

In an appearance on Fox & Friends First, Homan denounced the protest. “The ones who want to shout down a meaningful discussion — they will remain ignorant,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Perry World House, the center at Penn that hosted the event, also criticized the protest in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Members of the Penn community may disagree with a particular speaker at these events, but having conversations about those differences is part of what makes universities such as Penn essential locations for free inquiry, free expression, debate, and dialogue,” the spokesperson wrote.