ICE shouldn’t have been the one to cancel its career fair appearance

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Insufficient campus support for concerned students demonstrates lack of respect, inclusion at UC Berkeley in real time

Illustration of the ICE booth at a career fair casting a shadow
Rachel Lee/Staff

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Amid vehement student protest and the circulation of a petition signed by over 1,500 people, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, canceled its planned appearance at UC Berkeley’s virtual career fair on Thursday. 

What mustn’t go unnoticed or uncriticized is the fact that it was ICE, and not campus, which decided to cancel the engagement. In fact, it seems campus held little reservations about the circumstances, which is troubling.

UC Berkeley students — especially those who are immigrants — have every right to fear and mistrust ICE, a government agency with a long, controversial history of discrimination, maltreatment and human rights abuses. Those who protested the presence of ICE in a campus context were also right to look out for their mental, emotional and physical health. 

Campus should’ve been the first to address student unease. Instead, it appears that, after relaying student concerns, the Career Center waited for ICE to make the first move.

Just a few weeks ago, UC Berkeley released the findings of a survey showing the many ways underrepresented members of the campus community feel excluded and disrespected. The administration’s framing of the survey results, as well as the results themselves, revealed lacking efforts to make UC Berkeley a place welcoming for all. 

Given this recent ICE debacle, it’s no wonder many at UC Berkeley feel unwelcome. Not immediately acting on student concerns about a hostile environment is just one example of the ways campus continues to fail underrepresented minorities. That the Career Center also expressed little regret for not actively supporting students, while touting the campus resources available to them, speaks volumes.

What makes this particular situation all the more disappointing is that pushback against the presence of ICE on college campuses isn’t new. Over the past few years, students at universities across the country have criticized ICE at career fairs. 

UC Berkeley, too, has its own history of problematic correspondence with external groups, including Palantir, a software giant with ties to ICE, which planned an info session on campus in 2019. Following student protest, Palantir canceled the event. Then, as now, campus spoke up too late.

Every community space at UC Berkeley, virtual or otherwise, should be designed to support and uplift all students. When it comes to student fairs and events, campus must seriously reconsider its current marketing practices and implement stricter vetting procedures. ICE should not be on the list.

While participation by external groups in career fairs shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement — and ICE officials would be working outside of their usual enforcement capacity — campus must also recognize the message that actions such as this sends to students. 

Of all things, a career fair should be a place where young people feel uplifted and empowered — certainly not belittled, threatened or ignored.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.