Berkeley Forum talk by Secretary of Homeland Security disrupted by protesters

Michael Wan/Staff

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In the latest of a string of disrupted Berkeley Forum events, immigrant rights activists interrupted and shouted during a Tuesday talk by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

About 20 protesters, most of whom were affiliated with either UC Berkeley’s BAMN chapter or the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, first congregated outside the campus’s International House about 5 p.m. to protest U.S. immigration policies before the event began.

Demonstrators began shouting at Johnson, who was speaking with his staff and Berkeley Forum members on the balcony above the I-House Cafe. Johnson then came outside to talk with them but was met with repeated interruptions, after which he re-entered I-House.

“He probably thought that he could try to have a conversation with us,” said Angela Dancev, a UC Berkeley alumna and BAMN protester. “We shut him down.”

During his talk, Johnson focused on immigration and cybersecurity. He described the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to curtail instances of deportation, citing a reduction in annual deportations as a result of increased border security.

Partway through the student-moderated portion of the event, Sandy Valenciano, an organizer for the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, interrupted Johnson to challenge him, specifically questioning the separation of families because of deportation.

Protesters outside began to bang on the doors of the auditorium and chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, Jeh Johnson has got to go.”

Berkeley Forum President Matthew Freeman walked onstage and asked Valenciano to stop her interruption and allow Johnson to speak. When she did not comply, Freeman called on UCPD officers to escort her outside the auditorium, though Johnson requested that the police let her remain.

Two more protesters in the audience stood up and began to chant in protest of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency overseen by Homeland Security that conducted 315,943 deportations in fiscal year 2014, down from 368,644 in fiscal year 2013, according to the ICE website. At that point, the three demonstrators were escorted out by UCPD officers.

“I’ve encountered protesters before — I’ve invited them to come into the session and ask questions, and people do that,” Johnson said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “If someone’s determined to not let me speak, then there’s not much I can do with that.”

After the disruption, Johnson proceeded to answer questions posed by the student moderator and audience members. The event concluded about 7 p.m., and BAMN protesters remained outside the auditorium, using a megaphone to voice their disapproval of Johnson.

The Berkeley Forum — a campus student organization that invites leading experts to panels, debates and talks — is no stranger to controversy, as several of its past events have seen similar disruptions. A May panel with UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele was shut down amid protests, and last December, protesters of police brutality broke into PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s event.

“(Johnson) did give the people inside the auditorium a chance to engage,” Freeman said. “Unfortunately, they really weren’t interested in having a constructive conversation.”

The forum will host two more events this month — one featuring abortion dialogue advocate Aspen Baker and the other featuring software development expert Kevin Chou.


Staff writer Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz contributed to this report.

Contact Andrea Platten and Brenna Smith at [email protected].

A previous version of this article may have implied that Aspen Baker takes a position on the issue of abortion. In fact, she is an abortion dialogue advocate and takes no position on the issue.