Students and faculty at the Johns Hopkins University walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest the school’s contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Around 150 students marched around campus chanting “Caging children is horrific. JHU is complicit” and “JHU hear us shout. We won’t stop until ICE is out.”
It was the fourth time the group “Hopkins Coalition Against ICE” had organized an action against the contracts. The complaints began last July when Drew Daniel, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the university’s English department, created an online petition calling on the university to end the contracts.
Protest organizers said that the contracts make the university “complicit” in immigration policies that include “mass detainment, deportation and family separation” — even as administrators counter that their work with the agency has nothing to do with detention or deportation of undocumented immigrants.
“I care very deeply about Hopkins,” Daniel told the gathering. “I cannot ignore this institution anymore as it wanders ever farther into a moral abyss. ICE terrorizes black and brown communities. ICE violates the human rights of people it detains. It separates children from their families.”
Since 2008, the university has earned more than $7 million from 37 contracts with ICE, according to government spending data. Hopkins has three contracts with the agency totaling more than $1.7 million. The contracts, set to expire this year, are primarily with the medical school for educational programs that provide emergency medical training and leadership education.
Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland are among six institutions of higher education that have contracts with ICE.
Hundreds of Hopkins students have participated in previous protests, and more than 2,000 people affiliated with the university have signed the petition calling on Hopkins to immediately end its partnership with the agency.
University President Ronald Daniels has rejected the demands of the petition, saying the university is protecting academic freedom.
“Our specialized training and leadership programs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) have no relationship to the enforcement of immigration policies by the current or any other administration,” university spokesperson Karen Lancaster said. “We have been unequivocal in our public statements concerning the consequences of recent immigration policies that have a clear, direct and demonstrable impact on members of our university community.”
She wrote that JHU remains committed to international and undocumented students, offers access to students and staff without regard to immigration status, and provides care to immigrant and refugee populations in JHU clinics and hospitals.
Lancaster defended the ICE contracts, saying the training the programs provide “ultimately benefit those who interact with the agency.”
Samantha Agarwal, 31, a doctoral student from Ohio, however, said at Wednesday’s protest that she found the partnership “unconscionable.”
“We believe it sends a violent message towards prospective students who come from immigrant families, towards people of color who work on this campus, who have to be on this campus every day,” said Agarwal, who is studying rural development in India.
Erini Lambrides, 27, a doctoral student in astrophysics, helped organize the march with other activist groups and questioned the university’s “academic freedom” rationale.
“If your academic freedom is based on someone else’s systematic oppression, then maybe we need to discuss what academic freedom means,” she said.
Matthew Bourke, a spokesperson for ICE, said in a statement that ICE “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully without interference” and noted that the agency has awarded roughly 200 unique contracts to education institutions since 2004.
ICE works primarily on interior enforcement conducting immigration raids and seizing illegally trafficked narcotics. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection works primarily on the border operating detention facilities and implementing border-related policies such as family separations.