As I walked to class just the other day, I was struck by the large “fence” erected on the Main Green opposite Sayles Hall. Covered with spray paint and graffiti-esque writing, I knew this was either a political demonstration or modern art exhibit. Curious, I walked closer and saw two tables in front of the display: a table run by the students organizing Immigration Week and a table manned by Students for Justice in Palestine.
Why were these two groups demonstrating together? Was it because they were the only two student groups dealing with border issues? I knew that this couldn’t be the case. Looking a bit deeper, it was clear what these groups were trying to do – they were trying to equate the Mexican-American border fence with the West Bank separation barrier. And if some believe that this was purely coincidental, the previous collaboration between the SJP and the Immigrant Rights Coalition that was featured in The Herald (“Fence gathers thoughts on immigration,” Oct. 19) signifies an unsavory alliance.
The alliance between these two groups undermines the legitimate arguments of each organization. Let’s compare the two barriers for a moment. One was erected to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States while the other was constructed in the wake of the Second intifada – the worst wave of terror Israel has ever seen. Are these students suggesting that people attempting to enter the United States are analogous to Palestinian terrorists that target Israeli citizens? I doubt it.
If the two barriers do have something in common, much to the chagrin of the demonstrators the other day on the Main Green, it is that they are extremely effective. After the construction of the fence on the Mexican-American border, the number of border apprehensions declined 61 percent from 2005 to 2010. In fact, the number of arrests on the border is the lowest it has been since 1972. Likewise, the number of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens has declined dramatically since the barrier was built in 2003. From 2003 to 2006, 12 attacks were carried out, killing 64 Israelis, compared to between 2000 and 2003, during which terrorists carried out 73 attacks, killing 293 Israelis. And given the escalated violence caused by drug cartels on the Mexican-American border, for students to suggest that America has strict border policies because it wants to control who can call themselves “American” is ludicrous. For these students I have some breaking news – countries have borders.
Yes, this was frustrating. But it didn’t really bother me that much. I am open-minded, I like to see people expressing their political views on issues that they are passionate about, and I enjoy demonstrations that foster discussion. But I was appalled when I read in the Oct. 19 Herald article that this initiative was organized by the Third World Center, an organization that is supposed to be a safe space for collaboration and discussion. The TWC’s sponsorship of such a highly politicized and polarizing event runs contrary to its very mission.
The first principle of the TWC’s mission statement is “to provide an environment in which Arab, Asian, Black, Latino, Multiracial and Native American students can feel comfortable celebrating their cultural heritages.” What if a student falling into one of these groups was offended that there was a Students for Justice in Palestine table at this Immigration Week demonstration? Would they feel “comfortable” discussing this at the TWC? Probably not. It logically follows that there are students involved with the TWC who are passionate and engaged with immigration issues, but to have the entire TWC sponsor an event like this isolates those who seek a community in the TWC but disagree with its apparently institutionalized political stances. In fact, I know a Latin-American student very in touch with issues surrounding both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the Mexican-American border, and she feels frustrated and even offended when the two situations are conflated.
I am not writing this piece to question the importance of the TWC on campus. Its cultural programming, advising and social resources play a large role in making Brown the dynamic community that it is. But to me it seems inappropriate that an establishment dedicated to incorporation could sponsor something so divisive.
The demonstration on the Main Green has facilitated some interesting conversations, but the implications of the display, both through the coordination with Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as the sponsorship by the TWC, will marginalize students. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants – my grandparents all emigrated from Eastern Europe. But civilization, nations and the international order are built on countries having strong and secure borders. While this is not a rejection of the call for immigration reform, we as Brown students cannot be so naive as to think that nations can survive with open borders.
Zach Ingber ’15 believes strongly in borders and international law. He can be reached at email@example.com.