When it comes to punishment – do you use the carrot or the stick?
In the case of Northwestern University and student protesters who stopped a guest lecture by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official this past spring, the university decided to use the carrot and gave the students probation, a light sentence considering their options, according to the students’ defense lawyer.
“All my clients received probation,” said Lam Nguyen Ho, the lawyer representing the students. “It is during the summer vacation and ends when vacation ends, so they can’t really get in trouble.”
Ho told Chicago News that they are still appealing the decision because they believe it is not fair that the students were disciplined at all.
“I believe the students were being used as a scapegoat,” said Ho, who is the executive director of the Chicago-based legal aid organization Community Activism Law Alliance.
Ho said there were prior protests in which the University did not take action or punish the students.
Northwestern went through a formal resolution process and they could have either not pursued any actions or punishment against the students, or they could have suspended or kicked the students out of school.
In May a group of student demonstrators interrupted a sociology class because the professor had invited an unnamed ICE public relations representative to give a lecture. The students said the representative’s presence on campus was hurtful and even threatening to those who may be undocumented or have a family member or friend who has been detained by ICE.
The Trump administration has put the country on high alert to round up undocumented immigrants, causing fear and outrage in communities across the country where many work difficult jobs and have not committed any crimes. While Obama deported more immigrants, arrests have increased 33 percent from last year.
The professor said she had also invited pro-immigrant groups to speak, like Organized Communities Against Deportation, but this group denied the request because of the ICE invitation.
Northwestern University said the protest that shut down the ICE lecture was “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” and limited the students’ academic inquiry.
Nguyen Ho said his organization decided to take up the case because it was “outraged” that Northwestern would consider any disciplinary action against the student protesters.
“This is a classic example of students responding to a situation that they feel very threatened by, very much traumatized and in pain over, because a space that they considered a safe place and a supportive environment for their education was threatened by the presence of an institution, a governmental agency, that has caused so much harm and so many atrocities against their families and their communities,” Ho told The Daily Northwestern.
The University, Ho said, should have provided support to students, especially in this “extremely volatile and difficult political climate,” which he said is threatening for “minority students, students of color, immigrant students and just anyone who’s experiencing the frustration and challenges of the new administration.”
Students started an online petition at the time that made 14 demands, including declaring the campus a sanctuary place for its undocumented students and workers, and expanding resources and trained professionals to work with undocumented students. The petition also asked the university to get rid of E-Verify, an application “that compares employees’ information to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility,” according to The Daily Northwestern.
By Jim Vail