More than 50 students staged a protest against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) booth at the Winter Career Fair on Thursday, claiming CBP participates in human rights abuses against those attempting to enter the United States.
The protesters gathered at Corwin Pavilion, just outside the Career Fair in the Multicultural Center, chanting “Fuck your borders, fuck your walls!” and holding up signs in opposition to CBP and its policies. At one point, student protesters wearing duct tape over their mouths went inside the Career Fair and blocked the path to the CBP booth before being directed by protest organizers to return outside and continue chanting.
Lorena Alvarez, second-year English major and publicity co-chair of the Associated Students Student Initiated Recruitment and Retention Committee, helped organize the event and said she was inspired by the students who participated.
“I’ve been working tirelessly with the coalition that essentially planned this protest,” Alvarez said. “I’m very proud to have taken part in the planning and I’m just inspired by all the people who came out today and the fact that we were able to make our presence known.”
Alvarez said the event was meant to serve as a message that the university should stand by its status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
“As a Hispanic-Serving Institute, I feel like we should stick by that name and have students feel safe on this campus,” Alvarez said. “By having Customs and Border Patrol on campus, they absolutely do not feel safe; a lot of my friends were triggered today and I blame Career Services and the university for not protecting them.”
Clinton Cox, a supervisory border patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection, said CBP was at the Career Fair to provide information and opportunities to interested students, and that CBP’s goal is to defend American borders.
“We’re here to offer advice and potential career opportunities to all the students who are interested here,” Cox said. “We’re America’s front-line defense against terrorists and terrorist weapons, and we try to prevent the illegal flow of illicit material and/or narcotics and contraband, and to facilitate trade.”
Outside the MCC, four protesters covered in fake blood lay motionless on the ground, representing the undocumented migrants who died trying to cross the border into the United States. Around them, protesters yelled, “¡La gente unida jamás será vencida!” meaning “The people united will never be defeated!”
Juan Gonzalez, fourth-year economics and accounting major, said the protest was an affirmation of human rights.
“It’s obviously a good thing because we’re protesting human rights violations,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a lot of people who die trying to cross the border, trying to have a better life, and these immigration officers make it harder than it’s supposed to be, so I think it’s good to bring attention to these issues.”
About three hours into the event, protesters marched into the MCC and stood in front of the CBP booth, holding up signs and wearing duct tape over their mouths, before being directed by protest organizers to return outside and continue chanting.
Cox said CBP was not upset by the protest and encouraged peaceful demonstration.
“They have a belief that they believe in, and they don’t necessarily believe in the mission that we are tasked to do,” Cox said. “As long as it’s a peaceful demonstration, it doesn’t bother us one bit, and we encourage people to exercise their first amendment right.”
Toward the end of the event, tensions flared as a number of students with dissenting opinions arrived outside the MCC to talk with some of the protest’s supporters.
Jason Garshfield, fourth-year political science major, said he felt the protest was ineffective in creating a discussion about immigration laws.
“They’re angry that CBP is having a booth at the Career Fair, and I think that’s somewhat silly because those agents aren’t here to deport anyone,” Garshfield said. “I don’t totally approve of our immigration laws—I think they need to be reformed and I think that that’s a legitimate debate—but when you get 100 people together chanting the same slogan, that’s not something that’s encouraging debate.”
Rick Zierer, first-year political science major, said enforcement of American borders is necessary.
“In a society, you have to enforce laws, and those laws exist, be they just or unjust,” Zierer said. “There are ways that we can look about maybe making legal immigration easier. We can look at more common-sense solutions than just allowing no enforcement of the border, which potentially could be very harmful to the migrants themselves.”
Alejandra Melgoza, Associated Students senator and third-year Chican@ studies and sociology double major, helped organize the event and said the protest showcased the need for the university to provide more resources to the undocumented community.
“I believe we need to support the undocumented community because they need more resources on our campus,” Melgoza said. “And as a research institution, we should able to provide the services that we need for our community.”