NMSU Professor: ‘I Helped End a Customs and Border Protection Recruiting Program at NMSU. It Nearly Got Me Arrested’

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NMSU Professor: ‘I Helped End a Customs and Border Protection Recruiting Program at NMSU. It Nearly Got Me Arrested’

Photograph taken by Neal M. Rosendorf at CBP-Paso del Norte Processing Facility during a visit June 1, 2019

Photograph taken by Neal M. Rosendorf at CBP-Paso del Norte Processing Facility during a visit June 1, 2019

Neal M. Rosendorf

Photograph taken by Neal M. Rosendorf at CBP-Paso del Norte Processing Facility during a visit June 1, 2019

Neal M. Rosendorf

Neal M. Rosendorf

Photograph taken by Neal M. Rosendorf at CBP-Paso del Norte Processing Facility during a visit June 1, 2019

Neal Rosendorf, Ph.D. is an associate professor of International Relations in the Government Department at New Mexico State University.  The views presented in this essay are held by the author and not representative of The Round Up. 

This past June 1, I exposed the torment of 150 mainly Cuban asylum-seekers rotting for at least a month in a hidden outdoor concentration camp at El Pasos U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Paso del Norte Processing Facility. Since that life-altering experienceI was transformed within 30 seconds from a cool, liberal-institutionalist scholar into a zealous, even radical, refugee rights advocateI have devoted my energies to writing about, and activism on behalf of, refugees victimized by discriminatory and inhumane federal immigration policies and the agencies that enforce them.  

 Thus it was a no-brainer for me as a professor in New Mexico State Universitys Government Department to protest and seek to help end a recruiting partnership operating since fall 2018 between CBP, which includes the U.S. Border Patrol, and NMSUs Department of Criminal Justice.  

 While I certainly didnt expect any campus plaudits for my ultimately successful effort, I just as certainly didnt expect, perhaps naively, any attempt at punitive action to be directed at me within the university itself. In fact, in the aftermath of my modest accomplishment, NMSUs administration is closing in on charging me with violating regulations concerning collegial civility and protesting or impeding official university programs. This by itself doesnt especially bother me, as the regulations are manifestly wrongheaded and, as a result, there is a battle to be fought in defense of freedom of academic speech and activity that Im quite willing to wage. 

 But what was, and still is, deeply disturbing is that a senior faculty member in the Criminal Justice Department who had played a central role in forging the CBP recruiting partnership filed a police report against me claiming that I had aggressively accosted and threatened hima potential misdemeanor crime which, let me emphasize, I did not commit.  

 The implications are chilling: a university official is seeking to harness the coercive power of the state, via its armed constabulary, in an evident attempt to intimidate and punish a faculty member who has acted athwart his agenda on the basis of conscience. 

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 No one could have been more surprised than I that my pressure effort succeeded with unseemly ease and speed. I wish I could say that I laboriously built a broad coalition and conducted a political and public opinion full-court press. Instead, all it took was three Twitter postings in which I essentially said that CBP brutally and unquestioningly enforced deliberately cruel and likely unlawful White House policies; that until they mended their ways they had no place on NMSUs campus, with its large cohort of undocumented students and staff; and that I would do everything in my power to see them barred from recruiting at NMSU. 

 I am at this point a known quantity to CBPs public affairs leadership, with whom Ive had cordial and informative discussions over the past several monthsalong with a number of confrontations on those occasions when theyve been reluctant to talk. This was apparently one of those times. Rather than choosing to reach out to me for a discussion, which as always I would have welcomed, CBP decided to quickly and quietly withdraw from its recruiting partnership with the Criminal Justice Department. Indeed, they pulled the plug so quickly and quietly that I didnt even know for several days that Id succeeded in achieving my goal. 

 I was of course acting in the established tradition of non-violent university campus activism that includes Civil Rights-era protests, Vietnam War-era demonstrations against ROTC programs and on-campus job recruiting by corporations like Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm; protests including long-term sit-ins during the 1980s against universities investing in companies abetting South African apartheid; protests against the Iraq war and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war; and of course current ongoing protests against cooperation between universities and Department of Homeland Security agencies that enforce gratuitously cruel immigration policies, of which my small effort is just one such example. 

 However, neither the Criminal Justice Department nor NMSUs administration saw things quite that way. Without litigating, as it were, the specifics, the senior department member who had spearheaded the CBP-CJ partnership and I had a brief, sharp exchange of words outside of NMSUs library (OK, Ill litigate just a bit: he spoke sharply first; to my regret, I responded in kind, a touch more sharply. Like Donald Trump Im originally from Queens, and were not especially keen on Turn the Other Cheek. Its the one thing the President and I have in common). 

 This senior CJ Department member subsequently filed a complaint with the NMSU Human Resources division on two counts: first, my ostensibly uncivil behavior (I admit it, its not nice to call someone Professor Schmuck, even if it includes a respectful honorific, but its hardly at the dark abyss of epithets, in Yiddish, English, or any other language); and second, that I violated an NMSU regulation barring faculty members from impeding the proper functioning of a duly constituted NMSU programwhich seems to be a vestige of NMSUs vigorously unpleasant suppression of student and faculty campus protest during the Vietnam War.  

 But this was in its way to be expected, as the regulations are indeed in place; and it is up to me to argue their fundamental illegitimacy on First Amendment grounds, which I am happy to do. I am aware, on the basis of various official communications, that it is the intention of NMSUs administration to seek to sanction me, despite some much-appreciated words of encouragement the universitys president generously offered to me in an email message this past August, when my efforts took place off-campus: What an impressive work! It must have taken you massive amounts of time. Keep at it. It is a worthy cause and your efforts will have a positive impact.”  

 What I dont know is how draconian a sanction NMSUs administration seeks to impose, although Ive been told that an effort to fire me, even though Im a tenured professor, is not off the table. (Not that I would take such an effort lying down, of coursesee the previous comment about my Queens provenance.) 

 However, this senior CJ Department faculty member went far beyond lodging his HR grievance  and, insidiously, reported a criminal complaint against me to the NMSU Police Department over our brief verbal exchange, claiming that I had aggressively precipitated the contretemps and had uttered threats against him, which again I wont litigate here (OK, just a littlehes prevaricating about the former and inaccurate about the latter, else the NMSU Police Department would, presumably, have almost certainly arrested me).  

 I dont quite know whether this colleague was seeking to actually have me perp-walked into the NMSU Police headquarters, or merely to besmirch my professional reputation in service of his HR grievance; in any event, as with my success in pressuring CBP to end its campus recruitment program, I didnt find out that he had filed a police report until several days later, in part because the NMSU Police Department had not seen it necessary or appropriate to contact me or otherwise pursue the matter. 

 What makes this so threateningrather than risibleto the core mission of the university as a laboratory of both inquiry and dissent is that it was nothing short of taxonomically fascistic for this colleague to have sought to deploy against me the full coercive power of the state, utilizing a police force with its ultimate right to employ lethal force, in order to have me punished for addressing him with a mild epithet and helping encourage CBP to withdraw from its recruiting program with the Criminal Justice Department. 

 This effort to chill and penalize non-violent activity displeasing to this faculty member is completely unacceptable, whether in an academic environment or indeed anywhere in American society, and this must be impressed upon him in the most (civilly) forceful manner. To not do so would be to open the floodgates at NMSU for the perpetration of similar outrages by faculty members and administration officials disgruntled and vengeful over others’ protest against their morally and ethically problematic activities supporting, or turning a blind eye to, civil and human rights violations. 

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 Dr. Martin Luther King famously spoke of the fierce urgency of now,” an urgency of which Im brutally aware after looking into the eyes of wretched refugees incarcerated outdoors for a month in El Pasos blowtorch summer heat, behind chain-link fence and concertina wireperpetually unwashed, wearing the clothes they were imprisoned in, fed near-starvation rations, mistreated by their jailers.  

 I am haunted by the possibility that one or more of these refugeesthese suffering gentlemenmay have died of exposure or dehydration, an anxiety shared by El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whom I informed of my shocking June 1st discovery, and who made her own subsequent, deeply upsetting visit to the Paso del Norte CBP detention facility.  

 Tomorrow is today,” Dr. King said concerning ending segregation, and so it is in our own time, when xenophobia is afoot, malevolent officials develop white-nationalist immigration policies and complicit enforcement agencies carry them out, and innocent lives hang in the balance. 

 I am compelled to advocate, to agitate, to protestto press on relentlessly via direct action in order, as Martin Luther King coruscatingly put it, to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” This is my mission, my, charge, and I will never stop. I invite all who feel as I do to join me in a shared effort. The arc of history bends toward justicebut only if we act to bend it. 

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