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A Closer Look: Customs and Border Patrol Pull Out of Career Fair Due to Student Protest

*Editor’s Note: An abridged version of this story was released on the New University website last week. The following is an unabridged version that provides a more thorough, in-depth coverage of the events that transpired.

California Customs and Border Patrol Pulls Out of UC Irvine Career Fair Amidst Student Protest

Due to backlash from UC Irvine students, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) quietly withdrew from partaking in the Fall Career Fair on Oct. 22. Many Anteaters criticized the Career Center’s decision to host CBP in the first place, citing it as insensitive towards the undocumented student population at UC Irvine.

Upon first learning of CBP’s scheduled involvement at the Career Fair last Sunday night, Associated Students of UC Irvine (ASUCI) President Parshan Khosravi immediately penned an email to the Career Center requesting their invitation to CBP be canceled.

“Organizations like the US Customs and Border Patrol are the organizations that are tasked with various roles including targeting undocumented communities which is against the nature of our campus’s values for welcoming communities regardless of their backgrounds,” said Khosravi. “We cannot expect undocumented students to not be unhappy or frustrated. That’s only natural.”

While Khosravi understood the chances of CBP’s appearance being canceled altogether were unlikely, the ASUCI President’s hope that the Career Center would at least acknowledge the message it was sending towards undocumented students was similarly met with disappointment.

“This message right now is saying that undocumented students are not welcome,” said Khosravi. “That’s the type of message that I do not want to see as someone who is a student on this campus, as someone who is a student leader on this campus and someone who believes that the values of our campus are inclusivity and a safe space.”

Petitioning Against the UC Irvine Administration and Career Center

Amy Yu, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior and criminology double major, was also quick to take action after learning about CBP’s attendance. On Monday morning, Yu and a colleague immediately visited the Career Center, where they voiced their concerns to Career Center Director Suzanne Helbig and On-Campus Recruitment Specialist Kelly Swanholm.

According to Yu, who specifically mentioned that undocumented students may experience trauma and discomfort in the meeting, Helbig and Swanholm held steadfast in their decision to have CBP at the Career Fair, noting that the goal of the Career Center was to provide fair job opportunities for all students.

For Helbig, the inclusion of CBP serves the Career Center’s mission to bring in a diverse number of potential employers to appeal to as wide an array of students as possible.

“We care about and value all students. We have a diverse student body made up of individuals with many wonderful talents and personal values,” said Helbig. “To serve all students, we bring employers to campus and let students use their own judgement to decide which ones fit their skills, interests and values.”

Regarding the backlash from students, Helbig was nonplussed, stating, “Our students are passionate and are going to change the world! I am not surprised that they share [Yu’s] views.”

With her trip to the Career Center proving to be fruitless, Yu took her battle to the Internet by submitting a petition asking for CBP to be removed from the Career Fair.

In an open letter addressed to UC Irvine Administration, the Career Center and the UC Irvine community, Yu wrote: “Bringing US Customs and Border Protection to UCI blatantly disregards the physical, emotional and mental well-being of students on campus.” She asked readers to stand in solidarity with undocumented students at UC Irvine by signing.

The petition quickly garnered over 659 signatures before being closed by Yu following the announcement of CBP’s resignation from the Career Fair.

Yu explained that the petition was created to bring more awareness to yet another failure of the university to address the concerns of undocumented students, pointing out that it was hypocritical of UC Irvine to claim to be a safe and welcoming environment.

“For a really, really, really long time, undocumented students have been voicing [their] concerns and [their] needs for resources in this community and on-campus, but again and again, UCI administration has ignored [their] demands and concerns,” said Yu. “They have completely disregarded [their] voices. This is just one example of many in which they show that they didn’t really care about undocumented students.”

Thomas Parham            

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham was first notified of the issue early Monday morning and responded quickly and unequivocally. While Parham empathized with the campus’s undocumented students and acknowledged their anxieties about CBP, the Vice Chancellor remained resolute in his decision to stand behind the Career Center’s decision to invite CBP.

“The invitations that are extended are extended on behalf of all the students. Now, if we didn’t have the caliber of students we have, there are a number of companies and agencies and other folk around the country who would not bother to come. They don’t go to every college university, they don’t go to every career fair,” said Parham. “So, at some point, it’s important for our students to understand that it’s a privilege to have companies and government agencies, in this case to come to campus to do that.”

According to administration, as a campus that receives federal funding, UCI would risk losing federal grants by rescinding its invitation to CBP, citing Solomon’s Amendment (codified as 10 USC § 983).

It is worth noting, however, that Solomon’s Amendment pertains mainly to military recruitment, and allows the United States Secretary of Defense to deny federal grants meant for institutions of higher education should they prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus. The Solomon Amendment authorizes the defunding of a school only if the school “prohibits, or, in effect, prevents” military recruiters from “gaining . . . access to students . . . on campus for purposes of military recruiting” or prohibits access information relating to students’ identities, locations and educational statuses.

Legalities aside, Parham also noted that the number of undocumented students on campus only totals a little more than 500, and that the campus had an obligation to see to the interests of the approximately 29,000 other students that were potentially interested in seeking a job or internship with CBP.

“If they are looking for career opportunities, if they are looking for internships, if they are looking for these opportunities for Homeland Security, I think our students broadly ought to have that opportunity,” said Parham. “Now, if the students had an issue with it, or they felt anxiety . . . then there’s a way in which we can navigate the space for them to help them feel less insecure in the moment while [CBP is] here, without having to go through the lens of sending out messages that we’re going to disinvite folks. The campus does not disinvite anybody on those particular grounds.”

Lastly, Parham opined that the Career Fair was not an appropriate venue for students to direct their protests at, as the CBP employees present were more likely to be representative of CBP’s Human Resources department than be actual Border Patrol agents themselves. By the same token, Parham noted that the United States government creates immigration policies; CBP merely enforces them.

“If the students want to take issue, then take issue with [the] legislative branch and government representatives who make the immigration policy, not with the people who are charged with having to enforce it,” said Parham.

 California Customs and Border Patrol

While CBP is not responsible for legislating immigration laws, the agency has a history of corrupt agents and mistreatment of migrants when carrying out duties.

With a workforce of over 60,000 employees, CBP is currently the largest federal law enforcement agency within the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the world. Tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, CBP has endured intense public scrutiny in recent years. Amongst the criticisms are several allegations of inappropriate use of lethal force, internal corruption, a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability for hundreds of shootings by agents.

As reported by Richard Gonzales of National Public Radio (NPR) earlier this year, a scathing new government report condemned the CBP for is corruption, stating that “True levels of corruptions . . . are not known.” CBP’s lack of transparency was also lambasted, as CBP “did almost nothing to inform the public” when use of force by agents resulted in the deaths or serious bodily injuries of migrants.

According to the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which contains the regions of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, 40 individuals have been killed by CBP since 2010 (as of Sept. 1, 2015).

“There is a long history of fear among the immigrant community that emerges from federal and state policies and agencies such as US Custom and Border Protection. There has been a lot of violence against undocumented individuals, and millions of families have been separated inhumanely. Students have the right to feel the way they do,” said UCI DREAMers Coordinator Ana Miriam Barragan. “For many, the fear has turned into resentment, anger, frustration and more.”

Struggles and Unheard Voices

The list of grievances held by UC Irvine’s undocumented students against administration can be traced back to as recently as 2013 the year that Janet Napolitano was appointed the President of the University of California.

DREAMers face myriad challenges as a result of their undocumented status, including but not limited to: limited financial aid, increased difficulty finding secure employment and dealing with the social stigmas surrounding their status.

The DREAMer community first formed at UC Irvine in 2006, but due to a steep 32% tuition hike in 2009, many were forced to drop out. In 2011, the California DREAM Act made higher education more accessible for undocumented students, and a greater number of DREAMers began attending the UCs once again, culminating in the rebirth of Dreams at UC Irvine.

In 2013, DREAMers began having a more visible presence on campus, and subsequently began asking administration for more DREAM student resources but to no avail.

Around the same time, Napolitano was appointed the 20th President of the University of California, a decision that was met with ardent opposition from undocumented students across the UC system. Many DREAMers did not feel safe with Napolitano due to her previous status as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, where she deported record numbers of immigrants every year.

When visiting UC Irvine as part of her tour of the UC system, Napolitano was greeted by student protestors, much like every other UC she had visited. Student protesters reported being met with police aggression when attempting to enter the leaked location of Napolitano’s scheduled  meeting.

A select handful of UC Irvine student leaders were invited to meet with Napolitano; however, an invitation was never extended to any representative of UC Irvine’s undocumented student community.

For ASUCI President Khosravi, UC Irvine’s response to the student outcry against CBP thus far has been a source of frustration.

“This only just [shows] that we haven’t really stepped up from where we used to be. We’re still in the same place, we’re still doing the same things same reactions and that’s the unfortunate part of it,” said Khosravi. “I think the issue is more so showcasing that not only are we still making the same mistakes from the past, but also, we’re still making [those same mistakes] in reacting to the issues.”

UC Irvine DREAMers Workgroup

While the support of undocumented students by administration has been called into question, an initiative to support the interests and needs of DREAMers on campus was started by Parham as far back as 2012.

“I’m clear that not all [DREAMers] share [the protesters’] perspective, because lots of them have been very grateful . . . so where the rumors are coming from about the administration doesn’t support us, I’m not sure,” said Parham. “But I’m prepared to stand 100% by the administration’s track record in supporting undocumented students, and the evidence bears that out very clearly.”

Following a visit by a group of students who conveyed the struggles they faced as a result of being undocumented, Parham formed the UC Irvine DREAMers Workgroup in the spring of 2012. A task force of students and staff members, the group was tasked with “assessing the needs of [UCI] students and working to ensure that [UCI’s] communications, climate and services are aligned to provide access and successful matriculation.”

Among their findings, the task force discovered that DREAMers were not eligible to be Resident Advisers, were not eligible for graduate student research (GSRs) or teacher assistant positions and were not able to study abroad or participate in the UCDC/Sacramento programs.

In a letter addressed to members of the DREAMers Workgroup, Parham called for special attention to be paid to the needs of DREAMers, listing a set of short-and-long-term goals for the campus.

One of the more immediate efforts undertaken by the campus was the creation of a DREAMer website (put online in Oct. 2013), which features a public statement of commitment to DREAMers by the university and by senior administration. The website serves as a clearinghouse for DREAMer students, offering information about financial aid, housing, healthcare and academic and social support resources. This information was previously available, but students could only access it by searching through the UCI Registrar, Financial Aid Office and SOAR websites individually.

In the same month, Napolitano announced that she was allocating $5 million amongst approximately all 900 undocumented students in the UC system (except for UCSF). Napolitano referred to the $5 million as a “down payment,” stating her hopes that the “[UC system] will continue to be a vehicle for social mobility.”

With the announcement coming after a wave of criticism regarding her background as the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano incited further criticism, with students alleging the money was an attempt to placate her detractors.

“That’s not going to cover [anything],” said Yu. “That’s not going to compensate for the hurt and the pain that all of the students have to go through because of [CBP’s] deportation policies.”

UC Irvine received $593,000 out of the total $5 million, with allocations divided between the Financial Aid Office and Student Services.

Each UC was given $250,000 for student services, which was put towards resource centers, academic or mental counseling, courses educating students on the experiences of undocumented immigrants and coordinating campus services with legal and financial resources.

UC Irvine used this allotment of funds for the DREAMers website and to hire the campus’s first DREAMers Coordinator, Ana Miriam Barragan. Though tasked with advising over 500 undocumented students, this ratio is relatively favorable, as other campus resources typically feature one advisor for every 1000+ students.

The remaining $343,000 was allocated towards financial aid, where funding could be split between institutional loan and work-study programs and grants.

Because several undocumented students could not qualify for loans, the money was dispersed in the form of $697 grants to 234 students for the 2013-2014 school year. The following year, 208 of the returning undocumented students received $100, while 192 newly-admitted DREAMers received $250. This trend is set to continue for the 2015-2016 school year, with 187 returning DREAMers and an estimate of 300 new ones. Currently, funding from Napolitano is scheduled to run out after 2016. Each UC is to submit a report of how they have spent their funding to the Office of the President by Nov. 2, 2015,, and an announcement regarding whether these funds will be renewed is expected to come in January of next year.

Since 2012, the amount of undocumented students at UC Irvine has more than doubled. There are currently 548 students enrolled for fall 2015, up from 414 in fall 2014 and 267 in fall 2012.

A Minor Victory

Through an email exchange with CBP, administration notified the agency that a student protest was likely to transpire at the Career Fair, consequently resulting in their decision to withdraw.

Prior to CBP’s announcement that they were pulling out of the Career Fair Tuesday morning, Yu and other students had already conferred with Associate Dean of Students for Student Life and Leadership Sherwynn Umali on how to demonstrate peacefully while abiding by campus policies.

“CBP withdrawing from the UC Irvine Career Fair is a first step of victory for the undocumented student community on campus. The next step is making sure that an event like this shouldn’t and won’t happen again,” said Yu. “UC Irvine Administration needs to recognize that ignoring student voices and concerns is unacceptable and disrespectful on a campus dedicated to providing safety and equal opportunities for all students.”

Looking Ahead

Although Parham has been critical of Khosravi’s decision to advocate for the removal of CBP from the career fair, stating that the student body president should have balanced the needs of the majority with the few, Khosravi stands behind his decision.

“There have been many instances in history where the majority’s stance on issues such as race, sexual orientation, etc, has not been the most inclusive and welcoming, and in many of those instances, the representatives had to make the right choice, even if it was not the most popular choice,” said Khosravi. “In my view, it might be true that the majority of the people did not care about whether or not CBP was going to show up, but the right decision called for me to stand behind undocumented students, and that’s ultimately the decision that I had to make.”

Despite their differences, the respective offices of Khosravi and Parham are currently working together to aid undocumented students.

“Regardless of our differences of opinion, I can confidently say that Dr. Parham is working tirelessly to address the issues affecting undocumented students,” said Khosravi.

Currently, Parham and his office are working alongside Khosravi to re-establish the DREAMers Advisory Board, a committee dedicated to serving undocumented students. According to Khosravi, the board will serve two primary functions: to analyzing the pre-existing issues with the undocumented resources that are currently provided and to assess the potential need for other resources. The secondary function of the board is to work with Parham in determining how additional funding for undocumented students, should it come, is to be used.

The board is to include six undocumented students that span various genders, class levels, grades and of both the Chicano-Latino and API communities, to best represent the campus’s undocumented population.

Also in the works is a noontime forum jointly held by the offices of Parham and Khosravi, where undocumented students will have an opportunity to voice their needs to administration.