United States Border Patrol agents visited Western Washington University’s campus on Feb. 9 to participate in the Career and Internship Fair.
“That is a threat,” said Western student Favio Guzman-Estrada.
Guzman-Estrada serves as co-chair for Western’s Blue Group, a campus club founded in 2013 that seeks to provide a safe space for all undocumented and mixed-status identifying students. Mixed-status students may have U.S. citizenship, but their parents or other family members may not.
Guzman-Estrada said members of the Blue Group “lost trust with the Career Services Center, President Sabah Randhawa and the whole of Western.”
Hosted by the Career Services Center, the fair was advertised to all majors and class levels and was hosted in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room on the sixth floor, a floor below the Ethnic Student Center where the Blue Resource Center and Blue Group are held.
“I've known a lot of students who saw their parents or their uncles or siblings being dragged out by ICE or Border Patrol agencies,” said Eduardo Diaz Ceballos, the social media manager for Western’s Blue Group. “It's not necessarily the fear of being deported or being in any way arrested. It's just that fear of that trauma that had happened previously.”
Students weren’t the only ones who voiced their concerns and opposition to hosting Border Patrol agents on Western’s campus.
“I was really concerned, particularly given the wide range of authority that Border Patrol has this close to the border,” Regina Jefferies said.
Jefferies is an assistant professor in the Law, Diversity and Justice Program at Fairhaven College and a former immigration lawyer.
Western’s campus is situated within two border zones, a legal term used to describe a location within 100 miles of a border or coastline. It sits less than 25 miles away from the Canadian border and is just two miles from the nearest coast. Two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within a border zone, according to the ACLU.
“The expanded capability for Border Patrol means that they are much more visible, especially in places that are frequented by immigrants, including schools, grocery stores and churches,” said Immigration Advisory Board member and Tenant Union organizer Tara Villalba. “I know from having worked with immigrants, some of whom are undocumented, that they are scared. They're scared when they see those Border Patrol vehicles.”
The Immigration Advisory Board, founded in 2019, reviews existing policies and interactions between the City of Bellingham and law enforcement agencies, federal and local. The Bellingham Police Department and University Police policies do not allow officers to detain people solely on suspicion of their immigration status, and University Police policy does not allow officers to ask about a student’s immigration status.
Border Patrol officials, however, can search for violations of federal or immigration law without a warrant, and their enforcement capabilities are heightened in border zones.
A 2021 memorandum from the Biden Administration instructs enforcement officials not to take action at protected areas like universities, but according to Jefferies, agents still have some discretion on whether or not they take enforcement action in those spaces.
Jason Givens, public affairs specialist for Washington state, said Border Patrol was not on Western’s campus to enforce the law.
“Representatives from [Customs and Border Patrol] who attend career fairs are only there to discuss employment opportunities,” he wrote in an email.
Effie Eisses, director of Western’s Career Services Center, said alumni, faculty and staff reached out to voice their concerns.
Eisses made it clear that her department did not explicitly invite Border Patrol Agents onto campus for the career fair but instead provided an open registration process for the over 750,000 employers registered on Handshake to participate.
If Border Patrol enrolled in a future career fair, she wrote in an email, the Career Services Center would determine if there were other ways the organization could let students know about their employment opportunities.
Jefferies pushed back on this response from Eisses and voiced her concerns about the open registration process in her own letter to the Career Services Center. Jefferies said the Career Services Center, as a part of their recruitment policy, has a selectivity clause.
“The Career Services Center can be selective when determining who comes,” she said. “The idea that ‘Border Patrol just registered’ and ‘[The Career Services Center] didn’t have control over them coming,’ — well, they do, actually.”
Western’s policies protect students, faculty and staff from discrimination or harassment based on protected statuses and limit requirements for disclosing status.
“I was actually pleased that Western was a campus that didn't actively try to get the Border Patrol to do recruitment activities at Western,” Villalba said. “I'm also deeply disappointed that Western couldn't just say, ‘We support our undocumented students as represented by Blue Group.’”
In May 2019, the Keep Washington Working Act went into effect. The measure prohibits law enforcement from detaining or arresting a person solely to determine immigration status or on civil immigration law.
Villalba taught as a professor at Western as recently as 2021. She often worked with undocumented students. Even with the act in place, she said, no one is ensuring Border Patrol is in compliance with local and University policies.
“Border Patrol is the largest police agency in our area, and they have a wider jurisdiction than any other agency,” said Immigration Advisory Board member Liz Darrow. “Being undocumented in the U.S. is not a crime under local, state or federal law, but the way that police agencies work together creates a safety concern for students, workers and people who are living here.”
Members of the Blue Group, including Guzman-Estrada and Diaz Ceballos, met with members of the Career Services Center on Feb. 23. Students created a list of demands to present at the meeting as a continuation of the demands previous club members have worked on.
The Blue Group also sent their demands to University President Sabah Randhawa but have heard no response back as of March 13. President Randhawa was also invited to attend the Feb. 23 meeting but did not attend.
“We care about the future; we care about undocumented and mixed-status students,” Guzman-Estrada said. “Ultimately, Border Patrol should not be on Western’s premises for any reason.”
Riley Weeks is a city news beat reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a junior in the environmental studies/journalism program and is working to complete minors in American Indian Studies and Law, Diversity and Justice. When she's not reporting, Riley loves to hike, bake and read.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ava Boorn (she/her), 21, is a second-year student at Western majoring in visual journalism with a minor in art history. Spends almost all her time practicing vinyasa yoga or continually collecting books.
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