More than 400 Penn students and alumni have signed a petition against former United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan, who is scheduled to speak at a Perry World House event on Wednesday.
The online petition demands that Penn revokes Homan’s invitation and cancels the "Detention and Deportation from Obama to Trump" event, which will be a "frank conversation“ between Homan and two other speakers ”on recent policy changes, and what's next for detention and deportation in the United States,” according to Perry World House's website.
"Under Homan, ICE continued to be a violent organization responsible for terrorizing immigrant communities, for the separation of immigrant families, and for the persistent violation of the human rights of immigrants and their loved ones," the petition reads. "Consequently, inviting Homan as a guest speaker contradicts Penn’s claim of being a sanctuary campus that is committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of all of its students."
The petition also calls for Penn to no longer invite current or former ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials to campus; to create a Perry World House advisory board made up of diverse students and faculty; and to form an immigrant support fund and pay the renewal fees of students, faculty, and staff under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
While Homan was acting director, ICE implemented controversial policies and actions that many say violated the fundamental rights of immigrant families, including the revocation of a policy that led to the refusal of medical treatment in the United States for hundreds of critically ill undocumented immigrants. Under former President Barack Obama, Homan oversaw thousands of border arrests. He also defended the current administration's policy of separating families at the border in the same month he retired.
Appointed by President Donald Trump, Homan served as ICE acting director from January 2017 until his retirement in June 2018. He has been widely recognized for his leadership as a law enforcement officer and received the 2015 Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Service.
Homan is still scheduled to speak at Wednesday's event, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
“[Perry World House] is committed to providing the Penn community access to a broad set of views on important global issues, but this should not be construed as an endorsement,” MacCarthy wrote.
“Members of the Penn community may disagree with Mr. Homan or the other speakers, but having a conversation about those differences is part of what makes universities such as Penn essential locations for free expression, debate, and dialogue,” he wrote.
Penn for Immigrant Rights assailed Homan's invitation, calling the event "inappropriate and inherently violent."
"Penn should stop inviting speakers and hiring people who incite violence against oppressed groups. Penn made a commitment to become a sanctuary campus, but it seems that it only did that for brand purposes," Penn for Immigrant Rights wrote in an email to the DP.
The event comes after Penn submitted an amicus brief earlier this month to the Supreme Court arguing against the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal the DACA program. Penn President Amy Gutmann has also spoken in support of DACA, and in 2017 urged Congress to pass legislation to protect DACA recipients.
2013 College graduate Janet Kong-Chow, who helped create the petition, said a group of Penn alumni drafted the petition and spread it through their social circles. Kong-Chow said a distinction needs to be made between "speakers who are controversial and speakers who have committed human rights violations.”
"Even if he has no authority with ICE, his presence on campus with ICE will be incredibly anxiety-inducing for undocumented students, faculty, and staff as well as for the larger immigrant community in West Philadelphia.”
College sophomore Husnaa Hashim, who is a member of Queer Muslims at Penn, said she signed the petition on behalf of her community.
Given Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city — which are cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration officers to protect undocumented immigrants — Hashim said Penn has a responsibility to maintain its commitment to protecting marginalized groups on campus.
“What does [his presence] mean for the undocumented students who attended this university and were promised sanctuary and support?” Hashim said. “Many of them are on massive scholarships from the University, so what does that mean for [Penn President] Amy Gutmann to make all these promises to the student body as a whole and then act in direct opposition to those promises?”
2018 College graduate Miru Osuga, who signed the petition, said she was upset with the administration's decision to proceed with the event.
"I think this rhetoric around 'both sides should have a say' is just ridiculous at this point," Osuga said. "It acts as if all oppression and power is the same — that someone who has the power to separate families and deport people should have the same platform as the folks who it could possibly happen to is just an unfair statement."
College senior Tanya Jain, who is the chair of Penn Association for Gender Equity, signed the petition and said ICE's actions are not supported by and do not align with the values of PAGE.
“I think if you’re just bringing people who have these opinions that are inherently racist and xenophobic, then you are just contributing to that racism and so it’s not beneficial," Jain said. “Free speech only works when you are not deliberately harming others and their rights to feel safe on campus.”
ICE did not respond to request for comment.
College Republicans spokesperson and Wharton sophomore Corey Paredes said the organization stands by the event and supports ICE.
"Thomas Homan is an upstanding civil servant who was given a Presidential Rank Award by President Obama for his excellent work enforcing the same laws that currently exist under President Trump," he wrote in an email to the DP. "The petition is nothing more than a virtue-signaling stunt."
College sophomore Andrew Liu, who saw the petition on Facebook, said he believes the event should take place “if Penn wants to engage in dialogue on important public policy issues.”
“I think anyone regardless of political parties should be able to recognize that we can’t really have honest policy analysis if an entire government agency is basically de-platformed from speaking at the university,” Liu said.
Dozens of students from other universities also signed the petition, including people from Drexel University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Brown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.
The Perry World House event will take place on Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Other speakers include Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, the director of Children and Family Services at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Sozi Tulante, Philadelphia’s former City Solicitor.
Deputy News Editor Grant Bianco contributed reporting.