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Northeastern Defends Its Connections To ICE Despite Protests

Students and community activists rally at Northeastern University, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Boston demanding the school cancel a multimillion-dollar research contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Federal spending data show that Northeastern has received $2.7 million from ICE over the last two years. Northeastern said the grant isn't funding research that has anything to do with immigration enforcement. (Sarah Betancourt/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Students and community activists rally at Northeastern University, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Boston demanding the school cancel a multimillion-dollar research contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Federal spending data show that Northeastern has received $2.7 million from ICE over the last two years. Northeastern said the grant isn't funding research that has anything to do with immigration enforcement. (Sarah Betancourt/AP)

Northeastern University has defended its ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid protests calling for the university to sever any connection with the agency.

On Wednesday, dozens of people demonstrated against the Northeastern research contract funded by ICE, as well as the agency's inclusion in a list of potential employers in the co-op program at Northeastern. The program lets students earn academic credits by working for outside employers.

“I do not care to separate that Northeastern’s contract is not directly related to border policies because the issue here is ICE itself," said Ienna Fernandez, a law student. "ICE is working the way it was meant to be. ICE was born out of xenophobic and racist policies and to align yourself with ICE in any way is to concede that it is more valuable than the families it tears apart, that its function is more important than the trauma it inflicts on people who are just trying to find a home here.”

Northeastern, however, pushed back against calls to reject funding — no matter the agency.

"Efforts to restrict which federal agencies a faculty member can approach for research funding are antithetical to academic freedom," spokeswoman Renata Nyul said in a statement.

The professor conducting the ICE-funded research said the agency will stop funding his project on Aug. 31.

Glenn Pierce, director of Northeastern's Institute of Security and Public Policy, has received more than $2.7 million from ICE since 2016 to analyze exports of technologies that have civilian uses but could also be used in making weapons.

ICE issued a statement Wednesday saying "cancelling a critical research effort to help combat terrorist explosive attacks would be unproductive and short-sighted to say the least."

It's not clear why ICE is ending the funding. John Mohan, a spokesman for ICE, said that while he could not comment on the specifics of the contract, in general, multi-year federal research contracts hold "scheduled cycle periods written into them that will periodically start and end and may then be renewed at various times as allowed by the contract."

"As mentioned, the research under this contract supports worthwhile and necessary work," he added.

The research's connection to ICE has come under fire by progressives. More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition asking the university to sever its ties with ICE, citing the agency's practice earlier this year of separating migrant children from their families at the nation's southern border. The Trump administration says it has stopped separating families.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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