Dean of Students says protester violated 1st Amendment rights
Confirms presence of UA staff, absence of police report
Photo of U.S. Border Patrol vehicle, courtesy mark6mauno (Flikr).
A UA student who filmed her interaction with United States Border Patrol agents violated freedom of speech during an incident in the Modern Languages Building on Tuesday, March 19, according to the University of Arizona’s Dean of Students.
Kendal Washington White addressed questions surrounding the now viral video filmed by a student named Denisse. The video shows Denisse confronting agents, who were there addressing a club, through a door.
“Everyone has a right to assemble, and we shouldn’t be disrupting a club meeting or a class or anything like that,” Washington White said.
Investigations open up
Washington White confirmed Denisse, the student filming, is now under investigation for violations of the UA Student Code of Conduct. According to Washington White, the University of Arizona Police Department has also opened a criminal investigation into the incident.
A university-wide email sent last Friday from UA President Dr. Robert Robbins confirmed both investigations of the student in question.
“The UA Police Department will continue to investigate the incident for additional criminal violations, and the Office of the Dean of Students is reviewing potential violations of the student code of conduct,” Robbins wrote in the email.
While Washington White will be in charge of any discipline handed down by the UA, she said she’s more concerned with Denisse’s health and well-being.
“That’s why we do this work, is to help her,” Washington White said. “One of my team members has already been in regular contact with her about classes, attending classes, what can she do to feel safe, that sort of thing.”
Additionally, Washington White confirmed the presence of a UA employee at the time of the confrontation.
Luisa Pinto, president of the Criminal Justice Association — the club responsible for hosting the Border Patrol agents — said in an interview she tried to speak with the UA employee during the incident but off camera.
“I did try to get [Denisse] to talk to me, but she would not,” Pinto said. “But there was a UA employee there … I had more interaction with him, because he was calmer.”
Washington White said that UA employee was Matt Matera, coordinator of the Immigrant Student Resource Center, though she added she was not sure what role or capacity Matera was acting in at the time.
“We are trying to figure that out,” Washington White said.
Robbin’s Friday email alluded to a probe into the actions of UA employees. It is unknown if Matera is currently under investigation. The Daily Wildcat reached out multiple times to Matera for comment but were unable to reach him for this story.
UAPD contacted, but no incident report
Additionally, Washington White confirmed Pinto’s account that members of the Criminal Justice Association contacted UAPD. Pinto said her reasoning behind contacting authorities was to try to defuse the situation.
“The reason I called UAPD was because [Denisse] said she felt unsafe. As UAPD are the police with jurisdiction on campus, I called them to figure out if there was any way she could feel safe,” Pinto said.
Pinto said two officers eventually arrived on scene, but their presence only allowed the club’s meeting to continue. The situation remained.
“They weren’t able to talk to [Denisse], but they were able to close the door and have our meeting,” Pinto said. “We were able to finish, but not really. I reached out to club members and asked if they were able to learn anything … they said they weren’t able to.”
Whenever there is an incident report involving a student issued by UAPD, it goes to the Dean of Students Office. That didn’t happen with this incident, according to Washington White.
“My understanding is UAPD, they came there … but there was no action, no arrest, because we would have received that info by now. It’s my understanding that they called the dean-on-call … and they wanted the Dean of Students to manage,” Washingon White said.
Washington White said her office’s role is not to monitor incidents like the one caught on film.
“There is a difference between when there is a Mall preacher and ABOR meetings — we do that,” she said. “But that’s different from when a classroom or a meeting is being disrupted.”
According to Chirs Sigurdson, the UA spokesperson acting in the capacity of UAPD spokesperson, the reason for the agency not issuing an initial police report was that the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
“There will be a police report at the conclusion of the investigation,” Sigurdson said.
Robbins, DACA students take different views
On Monday, April 1, a letter signed by “DACA recipients at the University of Arizona,” was shared on social media. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Their letter takes issue with the presence of Border Patrol agents on campus and claims their presence has a negative effect on many attending the UA. The letter also claims there have been 10 incidents involving Border Patrol agents around Tucson in the last two weeks.
“Everyday, the presence of law enforcement threatens the existence of Black, brown, indigenous, queer and trans, refuge and undocumented communities,” the letter began.
The letter said the recipients “fully support” the students who confronted the Border Patrol agents and issued a rebuke of Robbins’ latest response.
In their letter, the DACA recipients claim Robbins’ response proves “again, the swiftness with which institutions criminalize people of color.”
In his email, Robbins addressed the campus “community of scholars.”
“As a community of scholars, we need to be more thoughtful and deliberative in how we approach these issues and work together to sustain vigorous conversations to find better solutions,” Robbins wrote in the email.
The letter from the DACA recipients struck a decidedly different tone and made clear there are members of their community who currently live in fear.
“We do not tolerate any form of harassment and marginalization that comes from Customs and Border Patrol,” the letter said. “We appreciate, value and are here for allies who are now being persecuted.”
*Editor’s Note: Per her request, the Daily Wildcat has chosen not to publish the last name of a source within this article due to privacy and safety concerns.
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