Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 19, 2021

Why Hopkins should keep its contracts with ICE

By TIM SHADE and ADAM O | February 28, 2019

When we think of the impacts of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, the imagery is impossible to ignore. Who could forget the sound of children crying for their parents while U.S. government officials laugh or the sight of barbed wire strung along fences just feet from citizens’ private homes? Almost universally, these images stir passion and anger. 

On our campus, this anger has largely manifested as a push to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), the organization often blamed for these morally untenable actions. At a recent protest, members of the Hopkins community shouted: “Caging children is horrific! JHU is complicit!”

We won’t argue with the first part of this chant, but we take issue with the second. These cries are born of real anger, but they’re inherently misdirected. As The Guardian and Slate point out, ICE wasn’t responsible for placing children in cages and separating loved ones at the U.S. borders but rather the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was. This distinction does not invalidate the anger felt by many in the Hopkins community, but it does matter. 

At its core, ICE is an agency tasked with enforcing laws passed by Congress. It has relatively little independent authority to make or shape policy. Abolishing ICE, as many progressives and Hopkins students have recently called for, would do nothing to change the underlying laws from which ICE derives its mandate. Nevertheless, the Hopkins community has been extremely vocal in recent months regarding the relationship between their University and the agency.

Through petitions and protests, many Hopkins students and faculty have spoken out against these contracts, with many supporting the abolition of ICE entirely. There is an inherent logic to these protests: ICE deports immigrants, Hopkins has contracts with ICE, therefore Hopkins is implicitly supporting those actions. But this is a terribly unnuanced view of the contracts between Hopkins and ICE that ignores the tenor of the relationship that the University has with the organization.

Further research into the specifics of the contracts shines light on the type of involvement Hopkins has with ICE: It’s not what one might think. The majority of the JHU-ICE contracts are with the School of Medicine for training in skills like advanced field first aid. This is not an implicit support of ICE policies; it’s a medically-driven initiative to improve the healing capabilities of a large government organization. Hopkins increases ICE’s capability to treat complicated and difficult injuries in the field. Without a doubt, the University’s work to improve ICE’s life-saving capabilities ultimately will benefit the people ICE works with on a daily basis. 

Are these contracts that we should abhor and abolish? We don’t think so. Hopkins is a world leader in medicine, and we are internationally renowned for being on the cutting edge of research and education. We have an institutional mandate to share this knowledge with the world, even if it means being associated with a widely criticized organization like ICE. 

Let’s engage in a thought experiment for a moment. Say all of the University’s contracts with ICE are abolished. In fact, let’s say that all of ICE’s contracts with higher academic institutions are cancelled. What would that change in the organization? The academic community would lose all influence, pushing ICE further away from the new, cutting edge ideas and evidence-based thinking of the education and medical fields.

Academics and academic institutions have a responsibility to share the knowledge they find with the rest of the world, especially with organizations like ICE. As a world-renowned institution, Hopkins has the capacity — and more importantly the duty — to steer organizations like ICE in the right direction. If change is truly what we desire, then we need to think about how we, the students and faculty of Hopkins, can do that. 

Effective change within an organization is enacted by those who can exert influence. Losing that influence means losing the ability to enact change. Without the complete abolition of immigration laws, ICE — or more specifically the work ICE does — is not going to stop. The organization will continue to exist, and more importantly, the laws directing the organization will likewise still be standing.

We recognize that the immigration laws in our country are far from perfect. However, you cannot change the course of a ship in motion without at some point putting your hands on the wheel. That’s a scary prospect, but what’s scarier is to watch from afar as the ship goes off course, knowing that we had an opportunity to correct its path. ICE is a source of real harm for thousands of families living in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be. For Hopkins to give up its contracts with the organization would be a profound mistake. The only thing we’d be giving up is our ability to make a difference. 

Universities are birthplaces of new ideas and innovation. Innovation drives change. Cutting the connection between ICE and an academic innovator like Hopkins would hinder ICE’s ability to take advantage of those changes. Depriving a major organization of those new ideas only means that the enormous number of people the organization works with are likewise deprived of the beneficial change that comes along with those new ideas. It may have been a tough choice, but it’s one that Hopkins had to make. Instead of running from these choices, let’s embrace them and use our institutional influence to effect real change.

Adam O. is a junior from Alameda, Calif. Tim Shade is a sophomore from Millersville, Md. Both are International Studies majors. 

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