University of Pennsylvania Surrenders to Protesters, Cancels Speech by Former ICE Director

A protestor holds a sign reading No one is Illegal during a rally against the US immigration policy on September 14, 2019 in New York City. - Some dozens protesters were arrested by the police after blocking the 5th Avenue. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo credit should read …
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Students at the University of Pennsylvania never got the chance to hear former director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan speak at an event scheduled at the school on Wednesday because the speaking engagement was canceled in response to student protesters who created a loud disturbance.

The University of Pennsylvania’s was set to host former ICE director Thomas Homan at the school’s Perry World House for an event, entitled, “Detention and Deportation from Obama to Trump” on Wednesday, but the speaking engagement was shut down after student protesters showed up and began chanting, according to a report by the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Student protesters had reportedly entered the room before the event, where they sat with attendees and began chanting, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “Go home Homan” while wielding signs that read, “Abolish ICE” and “No one is illegal on stolen land.”

“Before the event even began, chanting by some members of the audience made it impossible to hold a constructive conversation,” said Perry World House Communications Director John Gans, to the Daily Pennsylvanian. “Since our founding, Perry World House has been deeply engaged with the timely and sensitive issue of immigration.”

“Members of the Penn community may disagree with a particular speaker at these events, but having conversations about those differences is part of what makes universities such as Penn essential locations for free inquiry, free expression, debate, and dialogue,” added Gans.

The report added that a university official attempted to explain First Amendment rights to the audience, but it was to no avail, as the protesters continued chanting. Additionally, more than 500 students and alumni had also signed a petition demanding that the university cancel the event.

On Tuesday, Perry World House released a statement responding to the controversy.

“Perry World House is committed to building an inclusive community on campus and to serving as a home for debate and dialogue on the important, and sometimes controversial, challenges that face the world,” read the statement. “We are also committed to providing the Penn community access to a broad set of views — we engage them.”

The university department also mentioned that it had previously hosted events offering perspectives differing from the views that would be expressed at its upcoming “Detention and Deportation” event.

“Since Perry World House opened our doors three years ago, we have been deeply engaged with the timely and sensitive issue of migration,” continued the statement. “In the last year alone, Perry World House has hosted events on sanctuary cities, the migrant ‘caravan’ and international human rights law, media portrayal of refugees, refugee return movements, and more.”

As with Perry World House’s previous initiatives, our Borders and Boundaries program is hosting an event this week on “Detention and Deportation from Obama to Trump,” which features several speakers, including Thomas Homan, with very different perspectives. The conversation will continue next week when Perry World House hosts a program on “Corruption, Caravans, and Cages: Asylum – Past, Present, Future.” Members of the Penn community may disagree with a particular speaker at these events, but having conversations about those differences is part of what makes universities such as Penn essential locations for free expression, debate, and dialogue.

Perry World House confirmed that the event would proceed as planned, but when Homan took the stage at around 5:00 p.m. — alongside former Philadelphia City Solicitor Sozi Tulante and former ICE Public Advocate Andrew Lorenzen-Strait — the chanting had reportedly gotten louder. Subsequently, the event was canceled fifteen minutes later.

According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the announcement of the event’s cancellation elicited a response of cheering by the student protesters, who were then escorted out of the building.

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

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