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U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s appearance on-campus causes tension

by Mallory Culhane

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, two U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents set up a table in the Vaughn Center at the University of Tampa to recruit and educate students on internships and other employment opportunities, which sparked outcry and made some students uncomfortable. 

“A few of my friends, they’re all U.S. citizens but they’re all Latinos who felt very uncomfortable with it,” said Alondra Diaz, senior political science major and political director of the UT Democrats. “Not because of their status just because they were thinking like, wow I have friends who are DACA and they would have to text them like, ‘hey, just so you know, border patrol is in Vaughn,’ so they would avoid Vaughn.”

CBP contacted the Career Services department at UT regarding the opportunity to come to campus and engage with students and advertise opportunities, according to Mark Colvenbach, director of Career Services. Colvenbach also said that Wednesday, Feb. 26 was not the first time that CBP were on campus to promote opportunities.

“Our goal is to support our students in securing part-time, full-time and internship opportunities to assist with their personal and professional goals,” said Colvenbach. “Many of our employers and their representatives are critically important in assisting students with development of professional skills and understanding of various career paths and industries.”

Students are split on if UT’s decision to allow CBP agents on campus was a good idea considering the large international student population and current political climate. There are roughly 9,600 students at UT; the student body represents over 130 countries with 1,400 international students.

“I thought it was completely inappropriate,” said Catherine Reveco, junior public health major. “CBP causes fear and hatred on our borders and having it on campus knowing we have international students, it’s just not what is in our campus’ or the school’s greatest interest and I don’t know why they were ever welcomed there.”

However, other students argued that CBP, just like any other employer seeking to share employment opportunities, should be allowed to do so.

“I believe it was perfectly okay for them to be there,” said Gianna Mangiaracina, sophomore public health major. “CBP is part of our Homeland Security and their main job is to keep Americans safe…I don’t understand why that would be offensive to international students who most likely have borders that are secured by government employed personnel as well.”

Since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he has aimed to tighten the immigration policy, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

One of the most covered policy changes was regarding the “zero tolerance” policy that referred all individuals who cross the U.S.-Mexico border for criminal prosecution. Families or individuals that traveled with children were separated, which left thousands of children in the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Many criticized the conditions that children were kept in after being separated from their parents. Reports revealed that conditions were unsanitary and detention centers were extremely overcrowded, according to an article published in July of 2019 by TIME.

“Many of us are students who were born in the U.S. but have immigrant families and parents, like me,” said Reveco. “CBP holds a lot of power, especially in today’s political and social climate…seeing them on campus is enough.”

An executive order by President Trump ended family separation in June of 2018, though impacts from the policy still remain and over a thousand families have been separated since, according to NPR.

The UT Democrats released a statement on their social media accounts regarding the situation, condemning Career Service’s decision to allow CBP to table in Vaughn considering the current political climate and UT’s large international student population.

“We understand the value of having opportunities to reach out with these organizations and especially with our really strong criminology department,” said Kathleen Beeken, senior political science major and president of the UT Democrats. “But, it’s the value of them standing there in uniform and armed versus, why can’t they have someone come in street clothing, not armed, it would be just as effective and not as intimidating.”

The UT Democrats also criticized the fact that the off-duty CBP agents were armed.

“The thing that we first noticed was like, they were armed, and with everything that’s been happening like with other university shootings…we didn’t think that it was the smartest or safest choice to have off-duty officers with arms on campus,” said Diaz.

Though, some students believe that regardless of the agents being armed, the same reaction would have ensued.

“I think the people who reacted negatively would’ve still acted negatively even if they didn’t have their guns on them because they dislike the CBP for illogical reasons,” said Mangiaracina.

The UT Democrat’s statement quickly received backlash, which in turn opened up a bigger conversation on CBP.

“I think we had a point and that point got really washed out in a lot of the comments,” said Beeken. “It completely erased every point we tried to make which is, this is a safe place for our students.”

Within the hour, the UT College Republicans released a statement in response to the UT Democrats’, stating that “the lack of respect from the UT Democrats for those who put their lives on the line is appalling and disgraceful.” The UT College Republicans also criticized that the UT Democrats criticized the CBP under the Trump administration.

“It has nothing really to do with political opinions or whatnot, they’re just there to have job opportunities for kids coming out of college and they’re just doing…what they’re doing and just informing people what kind of job they’re getting into,” said Samuel Neal, sophomore criminology major and vice president of the UT College Republicans. “I just think it was disrespectful for the [UT] Democrats to say all those kinds of things when they were invited in the first place.”

The UT College Republicans also see no issue with the fact that the agents were armed since they’re federal agents, and believe that regardless of UT’s large international student population, CBP had the right to be there.

“They’re there recruiting for their job,” said John Farinelli, sophomore political science major and president of the UT College Republicans. “The common misconception is these people are out for immigrants regardless if they’re illegal or legal, and their job as border protection is to protect the border and find people that are illegal and remove them from the country, so if these students are legal, then I don’t know what they’re so concerned about.”

The UT Republicans contacted Career Services to invite the same two CBP agents to come speak at one of their future meetings and invited the UT Democrats to attend the talk, as well as debate on the incident. The UT Democrats have yet to respond to the invitation.

Mallory Culhane can be reached at mallory.culhane@theminaretonline.com

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