Administrators refuse to end JHU-ICE contracts

By KATY WILNER | October 25, 2018

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COURTESY OF ALIREZA GHASEMI

Hopkins community members protest the JHU-ICE contract in September.

Since the summer, students, faculty, staff and community members have protested the University’s long-standing contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). On Sept. 21, members of the Hopkins community presented a petition to the administration calling for an end to all JHU-ICE contracts. The petition garnered over 1,900 signatures.

On Oct. 17, University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar responded to the petition via email. They sent the email to Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English Drew Daniel, who authored the petition, as well as three student groups: the Student Government Association (SGA), Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and Teachers and Researchers United (TRU). 

The email stated that while Daniels and Kumar appreciated the sentiment behind the petition, they will not end current contracts with ICE.

In an email to The News-Letter, Daniel wrote that he was disappointed but not surprised by the administration’s response. He criticized Hopkins for continuing to participate in contracts with an organization that so many of its community members oppose.

“I remain convinced that contracts with ICE are not in the best interests of Hopkins as an institution, and are deeply inconsistent with our core values,” Daniel wrote. “You cannot provide ‘leadership training’ to ICE personnel, thus making it a more efficient and capable organization, without such training constituting an endorsement of what ICE is currently doing to the people it detains, arrests, intimidates and brutalizes.”

Many who protest the JHU-ICE contracts were also disappointed with the administration’s email, including graduate student  

Peter Weck. As a TRU member, Weck received the University’s email and reposted screenshots of it to his social media accounts.  

In an interview with The News-Letter, Weck stated that there were many flaws in the University’s decision to continue its partnership with ICE, including the University’s argument that the contract-funded programs promote academic freedom.

“The University is participating in supporting an agency whose main purpose is mass surveillance, tracking-down and deporting immigrant families who are living peacefully in this country. That’s not academic,” Weck said.

Other students, including sophomore Kimberly Robins, were surprised by the University’s response, especially because she did not personally receive the email, despite being present at the JHU-ICE protest.

“I signed into the protest, so there’s a record of me having been there,” she said. “It’s obviously frustrating because it’s clear that the University is kind of saying ‘fuck you’ to the students who are trying to be politically active but being so opaque about it and not even responding to the people who are involved in this issue.”

The email from the administration explains that there are two programs currently being funded by the federal government. One is at the School of Education’s Division of Public Safety Leadership, which includes a contract with ICE and will end in 2019.

The other program is at the School of Medicine’s Center for Law Enforcement Medicine, which provides specialized training for medical personnel in the federal government. This program involves contracts with the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, and ICE.

Daniels and Kumar stated in their email, “After carefully considering your petition, we have concluded that it would be inappropriate and inadvisable for the university to agree to your request.”

Sophomore Class President Sam Schatmeyer was not satisfied with this line of reasoning, since on a webpage detailing the programs that are partnered with ICE, the programs were said to support all ICE missions. This webpage is no longer active.

“Though the President and the Provost stated that the faculty working on the ICE program don’t regard their work as an endorsement, I would point out that the language in the online description of the program explicitly states that the program works to serve the core mission of ICE. So, if you serve the core mission of an organization, THAT is an endorsement. Full stop,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Daniels and Kumar explained in the email that although these programs receive funding from the federal government, including ICE, participants do not believe that their work is directly related to the policies and implementations of current ICE operations.

“Colleagues who lead and participate in these programs do not regard their work as constituting an endorsement — explicitly or implicitly — of the current administration’s immigration policies,” they wrote. “In fact, colleagues involved in the programs share the reservations you have raised about aspects of the federal government’s current immigration enforcement activities. Yet, despite these concerns, our colleagues believe that their programs serve the public interest by providing quality education and emergency medical training that ultimately benefit those who interact with the agency.”

Weck argued that these programs cannot be likened to controversial educational endeavors that promote academic freedom because he belives that ICE, is directly responsible for human rights violations.

“The fact of the matter is that there’s a long trail of well documented human rights abuses — everything from the torture of people in their facilities, rape by ICE agents,” he said. “This is systematic. It’s a deeply flawed agency, not just in its purpose but also in the way it’s conducted.”

Similarly, Drew Daniel critiqued the University’s response to his petition, which started circulating online over the summer. 

He stated that just by the sheer number of people who signed his petition, the administration should realize that a continued partnership with ICE is not supported by Hopkins community members.

“While I am grateful for a public and thoughtful response from the administration, I must say that it pains me as a faculty member to see the University make choices that I, and the thousands besides me who signed the petition, can clearly see are not in the best interests of an institution that we all care about,” he wrote.

In the University’s email, Daniels and Kumar state that they are committed to serving both international and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students by not providing information regarding immigration status unless required for legal reasons.

However, Weck argued that this is not an accurate statement on behalf of the University, citing the example of former librarian, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel. In August, Mahoney-Steel said that the University did not submit an application for her work visa renewal, and she was given a 10-day notice to leave the country. 

“In this letter, they spend an entire paragraph trying to side-stuff the issue by repeating this claim of unwavering commitment to supporting students and staff with immigration status,” he said. “To repeat that claim, just two months after they forced Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel out of the country with 10-days notice, out of no better reason than the fear of the embarrassment of potentially having a visa application denied; I don’t know what to say to that.”

Kimberly Robins believes that the email, in addition to stating the University’s intent on the future of the JHU-ICE program, highlights the way the administration views student activism on campus.

Robins, who opposes the contract, stated that this email highlights how the administration does not support student activism when students oppose the institution’s practices.

“When the object of the protest becomes the University itself, all of a sudden the response is much less transparent, much less open and there’s much less of an attempt to embrace this new-wave of activism that is so refreshing for Hopkins,” she said.

Despite Daniels and Kumar stating that they do not plan to break the current contracts with ICE, some students say that they will continue to push for an end to the partnership. Schatmeyer stated that this is an opportunity for all students to become active on campus.

“The fact that the President and the Provost only spoke to the people who spoke to him signal to us that we all need to push the administration on that which we want changed, forcing the administration to speak to the whole student body,” he wrote. “No change, especially at this school, comes quickly.”


Correction: In an earlier version of this article, a quote from graduate student Peter Weck stated that ICE agents had committed murder. The incorrect part of the quote was removed.

The News-Letter regrets this error.

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