In 1971, Berkeley became the United States’ first city to pass a sanctuary resolution, in an effort to protect U.S. Navy SEALs who opposed the Vietnam war. Nearly 50 years later, this language is still used to describe the city as a refuge for those who face the possibility of deportation. The University of California has an estimated 4,000 undocumented students on its campuses, 500 of whom are at UC Berkeley. In September 2017 — when the legal status of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was threatened by President Donald Trump’s administration — protecting these students was the university’s natural first step. The UC system took legal action against the administration to support its DACA-recipient students, eventually leading to more than 100,000 DACA renewals.
That is why it is unacceptable that UC Berkeley’s official bank is Bank of the West, whose parent company, BNP Paribas, has invested more than $1 million in two private prison companies contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Although BNP Paribas has relatively small holdings in these prisons in comparison to other banks, rising campus senior Camila Elizabet Aguirre-Aguilar — who uncovered this information — puts it aptly: No matter how small the investment is, the company is still profiting “off of families fleeing warlike conditions.”
When UC Berkeley is tied to companies like this, so is its revenue. In 2015, when UC Berkeley’s 10-year contract with Bank of the West was announced, it was predicted that the campus would make $17 million from this partnership. This money is tied, however indirectly, to the abhorrent practice of separating families at the border.
If UC Berkeley really wants to show its commitment to supporting its undocumented community members, it needs to end its partnership with Bank of the West as long as BNP Paribas continues to maintain its holdings in these private prison companies.
Admittedly, the split won’t be an easy one. From the UC Berkeley Food Pantry to scholarships to financial literacy programs, the financial support of Bank of the West has led to important campus resources that, if terminated, would undoubtedly hurt students. It’s time to call on donors and sponsors to fill the hole Bank of the West would leave. Ultimately, money comes and goes, but an association with moral corruption is something that will leave a stain on this campus for decades.
Since becoming aware of this situation, UC Berkeley has been in talks with Bank of the West and BNP Paribas, prompting both companies to conduct an internal evaluation into the investment, according to campus spokesperson Roqua Montez. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s only the first step. It’s inexcusable to stay in business with a company that makes money off of ICE’s egregious actions against immigrants.