[Marxism] Criminal Charges Against Arizona Students Were Dropped. But the Controversy Endures.
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Mon Apr 29 06:54:15 MDT 2019
Chronicle of Higher Education, APRIL 25, 2019 PREMIUM
Criminal Charges Against Arizona Students Were Dropped. But the
By Katherine Mangan
One by one, students stood up to describe the fear and anxiety they felt
whenever they encountered an armed, uniformed agent from the U.S. Border
Patrol. The University of Arizona’s Tucson campus, just 70 miles from
the Mexican border, is one place, they said, where they shouldn’t have
to worry about friends or relatives being rounded up and deported.
This week’s “campus conversation” was the first public forum since three
student protesters were arrested this month for interrupting a class
presentation by two such agents. At least one of the students called
them “murder patrol” and “an extension of the KKK,” filming the taunts
through the open door of a classroom and then following the agents,
along with other students, to their car.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against the
students, but they are still being investigated for possible violations
of the student-conduct code. Emotions remain raw at this
Hispanic-serving university in a deep-red state with some of the
nation’s toughest immigration laws.
“It just sounds ridiculous that two fully armed, uniformed agents would
be intimidated or harassed by a student who's 5-5 and only carries a phone.”
The university’s president, Robert C. Robbins, began by assuring
students that he recognized both their First Amendment right to protest
and the very real fears of both documented and undocumented students.
“We have to make sure we provide support and safety for those who don’t
feel safe and who have fear,” he said. “But at the same time, there are
rules, and we will obey the law.”
He went on to say that he “absolutely” supports free speech and the
right to protest. “Without question, it’s the bedrock of our democracy,”
Students who were angry about the university’s decision to arrest the
students demanded an apology from the president and an assurance that
future protests would be allowed, and that Border Patrol visits would not.
While Robbins conceded that unspecified mistakes had been made, he
offered no apology and could give no assurance that the Border Patrol
wouldn’t show up again. The agents had been invited by a student club —
the Criminal Justice Association — to talk about careers in criminal law
The students’ protest, some students at the forum argued, was an
overreaction that only stoked fear and misunderstanding.
The president of the campus’s College Republicans chapter, Matthew
Minor, accused some activists of “relentless fear-mongering” and
spreading “the misconception” that immigration and Border Patrol agents
“can just come here and abduct you.” Minor added that “the men in
uniform should not be banished just because someone disagrees with them.”
Three students, Denisse Moreno Melchor, Mariel Alexandra Bustamante, and
Marianna Ariel Coles-Curtis, were issued misdemeanor citations by the
university police this month for interfering with the peaceful conduct
of an educational institution. Moreno, 20, was also cited for threats
“It just sounds ridiculous that two fully armed, uniformed agents would
be intimidated or harassed by a student who’s 5-5 and only carries a
phone,” Moreno said in an interview on Thursday. “No one was in any
danger. I didn’t even enter the classroom.”
After students in the classroom called the campus police, they responded
but didn’t take down her name or indicate they planned to press charges,
Moreno said. Charges were filed more than a week later, after Customs
and Border Protection officials complained to the university, she said.
The county attorney’s office said prosecutors later asked that the
misdemeanor charges against the three students be dismissed because the
university is conducting its own investigation.
Robbins has denied succumbing to pressure from customs officials and
said the charges had been filed only after the university had completed
its initial investigation.
“At the core of these inquiries is the University of Arizona’s
commitment to free speech,” Robbins wrote in a statement last month.
“The student club and the CBP officers invited by the students should
have been able to hold their meeting without disruption. Student protest
is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not.”
Border agents aren’t the only ones who have been pressuring the
university to crack down on activists. Four Republican state lawmakers
released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the decision to drop the
They lambasted faculty members for defending the students and, as they
saw it, challenging the president’s authority, hinting that it could
hurt his chances of getting state money for the university. The
lawmakers added that “if it becomes necessary to terminate the
employment of professors, tenured or not, for interfering with
university operations, we will stand with President Robbins and the
decisions he makes.”
Some Republican students who spoke at the meeting said they also felt
threatened because their views, in this heated climate, were being
dismissed as racist. Nolan L. Cabrera, an associate professor in the
Center for the Study of Higher Education, called their complaints a
“false equivalency” with the tangible threats undocumented and even
documented students face on a regular basis.
Cabrera, one of several university officials and faculty members
fielding questions from the audience, pushed back on complaints that the
protesters had been acting irrationally while the students in the class
“It’s very easy to remain calm and even-keeled when you’re not the one
being targeted, when you’re not under the threat of your family being
separated,” he said. “The question is, who is under threat, especially
in this border region? It’s brown-skinned folks.”
During this week’s forum, students played a clip from a radio interview
in which Art Del Cueto, president of the local chapter of a Border
Patrol union, said he would have punched a protester who yelled at him,
in the throat.
In an interview on Thursday, Del Cueto didn’t deny saying that but said
the context was important. “They followed these agents down the hall
screaming and yelling at them, and then swearing at them in Spanish. If
you are a regular person and not in uniform and someone approaches you
in that manner and continues to harass you and follow you down the hall,
you’re going to have a physical confrontation,” he said. “They were
invited there. It’s not like they were there to do a sweep.”
Del Cueto said he had reached out to Judicial Watch, a conservative
activist group, and together they wrote a letter urging the university
to investigate the students’ conduct.
When Del Cueto urged radio listeners to send him the names and addresses
of any “illegal aliens” at the university so he could tell them the next
time border agents were coming, he said he was joking. “Who’s going to
give me those names? The whole thing’s insane anyway. It’s like we’re
going to give the criminals a heads-up.”
Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts,
and job training, as well as other topics in daily news. Follow her on
Twitter @KatherineMangan, or email her at katherine.mangan at chronicle.com.
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