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Why Immigration Coverage Is Dividing Harvard's Student Newspaper

Students walk in and out of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Students walk in and out of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The official position of the Harvard Crimson is that the student newspaper was right to seek comment from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when reporting last month on a rally at which students called for the agency's abolition.

"We stand behind that decision," Crimson President Kristine Guillaume and Managing Editor Angela Fu said in a note to readers this week.

But some current and former members of the paper's staff disagree, including one of the Crimson's current opinion editors. That student publicly identified herself as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Trump administration has moved to end. She is also co-director of Act on a Dream, the group that organized the demonstration against ICE. Act on a Dream is now petitioning the Crimson not to contact the agency for comment on future stories; to issue an apology, and to "declare their commitment to protecting undocumented students on campus."

The student did not respond to an interview request.

The student and the other Act on a Dream director, a former Crimson opinion editor, did grant interviews at the rally last month to the newspaper, which published their full names. Both students had previously used their names in Crimson bylines and shared their names, along with photographs of themselves, on social media accounts and the Act on a Dream website.

Though Act on a Dream's leaders have voluntarily revealed their identities in public forums, the group contends in its petition that the Crimson's offer for ICE to comment on the rally "is virtually the same as tipping them off," suggesting that the paper called ICE's attention to an event that the agency might otherwise have missed.

"We are extremely disappointed in the cultural insensitivity displayed by the Crimson's policy to reach out to ICE, a government agency with a long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them," the Act on a Dream petition reads. It goes on to argue that seeking comment from ICE "endangers undocumented students on our campus" but does not claim that any students have been targets of ICE retaliation since the rally.

In their response to the petition, Guillaume and Fu emphasized that "in the Crimson's communication with ICE's media office, the reporters did not provide the names or immigration statuses of any individual at the protest. We did not give ICE forewarning of the protest, nor did we seek to interfere with the protest as it was occuring [sic].

"Indeed, it is the Crimson’s practice to wait until a protest concludes before asking for comment from the target of the protest — a rule which was followed here. The Crimson’s outreach to ICE only consisted of public information and a broad summary of protestors' criticisms. As noted in the story, ICE did not respond to a request for comment."

Responding to a WBUR inquiry, ICE declined to comment on the Crimson coverage dispute.

Guillaume declined to comment, beyond the published note to readers.

The paper's current editorial page co-editor and its recently graduated associate editor are among those who also have criticized the paper's reporting. Act on a Dream tweeted Wednesday that the Crimson "has historically been inconsistent in their decision to reach out to government agencies in response to student activists, including a recent protest against Amazon."

The tweet appeared to refer to the paper's coverage last month of a demonstration outside Amazon's Kendall Square office, where people protested the company's business relationship with ICE. A Crimson report indicated that the paper sought comment from Amazon, the main subject of the protest, but not from ICE.

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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