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University of Arizona Students Charged with Misdemeanor After Heckling Border Patrol Agents

Border Patrol agents search the Rio Grande River for illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States on Monday, March 26, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, many of them Mexicans or from other Latin American countries. / …
LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty
ALANA MASTRANGELO

Two students at the University of Arizona have been charged with misdemeanors after harassing Border Patrol agents at a career fair last month. The students took videos of themselves heckling the agents by calling them “KKK” and chanting “murder patrol” while they followed them to their vehicles. The Border Patrol agents were on campus speak to criminal justice majors at a career fair.

The University of Arizona (UA) sent out a memo on Friday informing the campus community that at least two students have been charged with a misdemeanor for interfering with a career fair last month, in which the students had harassed border patrol agents as they attempted to speak to criminal justice majors about opportunities in law enforcement.

“The incident between the protesting students and the Criminal Justice club members was a dramatic departure from our expectations of respectful behavior and support for free speech on this campus,” said the University of Arizona in its memo released on Friday.

“University police determined today they will be charging two of the students with interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution, a misdemeanor,” added the university.

The students had filmed themselves taunting the agents, and can be heard chanting “murder patrol” as they followed them through the university hallways and outside to their vehicles.

UA’s student government reacted by doubling down on the protesters’ behavior by issuing a statement announcing that they stood “in solidarity” with the disruptive students. Student government even took matters a step further by demanding that the university notify illegal alien students in advance next time border patrol agents are expected to be on campus.

University staff, however, did not appear to have the same reaction after reviewing the video footage of the incident that unfolded at the career fair last month.

“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,” affirmed UA in its memo.

The memo also stated that the UA Police Department will investigate the incident to determine if there had been “additional criminal violations,” and that meanwhile, the Office of the Dean of Students will be reviewing “potential violations of the student code of conduct.”

The university also stated that there “will be a probe into actions involving UA employees” as well.

“At the core of these inquiries is the University of Arizona’s commitment to free speech,” said UA, “The student club and the CBP officers invited by the students should have been able to hold their meeting without disruption. Student protest is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not.”

The academic civil liberties organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) responded to UA’s memo by stating that it will be monitoring the situation to ensure that the university upholds the First Amendment rights of its students.

“The First Amendment protects the right of public college students to engage in peaceful protest,” said FIRE in a statement on Tuesday, “This right protects student speech that listeners may find deeply offensive.”

FIRE adds that while “calling Border Patrol agents ‘murder patrol’ and ‘an extension of the KKK,’ — is plainly protected by the First Amendment,” the First Amendment also protects the right of UA students “to hear from the speakers of their choice free from the heckler’s veto.”

“Attempts to prevent a speaker from being seen and heard by an audience are not protected by the First Amendment,” continues the civil liberties organization, adding that FIRE does not yet have enough information to determine whether or not the protesters’ disruptive behavior caused the event to end prematurely.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.

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