There is one word that describes my experience in Tuesday’s protest against former ICE Director Thomas Homan's visit: frustrating.
I wish I could say that I felt as proud and empowered as I did last fall while standing outside of Perry World House, but neither of those words rings true today. We achieved our goal of ending the event with the initial protest last October in approximately fifteen minutes and rejoiced at taking back our campus. For a moment, we felt heard and seen through those glass doors, like our presence and beliefs on this campus mattered. This time was different.
Instead of having the opportunity to reach the event from both inside and outside the room where it was hosted, Penn Republicans made it a point to keep us out. Marketing for the event didn’t fully reach the non-white republican community on campus, and “first-come-first-serve” actually meant “you had to register by 4 p.m.” So we argued with security and “open expression observers” until we had enough and stood our ground by sitting outside of the heavy doors to the Hall of Flags.
As former United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Homan stated during his talk, “walls work,” especially here at Penn when members of the University actively kept us out.
It was infuriating to spend over an hour and a half not only yelling through closed doors, but in front of seven police officers in addition to University staff members that stood over us, laughed, and recorded us. I don’t know which was worse, being mocked by the people supposedly hired to protect us or the students inside of the room, watching and laughing through the small circular windows when not actively ignoring us.
Homan's presence broke my heart because I came to Penn from Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the nation. I’m not an undocumented immigrant, nor are my Puerto Rican family members, but I am a Jewish Latina. From walking the streets of America's most segregated city to learning about the Holocaust from the time I could read, I have understood what it means to fear white supremacy my entire life.
I, as well as the other protesters that day, respect the importance of freedom of speech. Our intention is never to silence someone’s opinion, no matter how misguided it is, or interfere with their right to listen, but this was not about freedom of speech. Thomas Homan was not just another racist guest speaker invited to Penn’s campus. He is the former director of ICE and guilty of committing and ordering human rights violations. Allowing him to tell his side while silencing Penn’s Latinx community and its allies is a continuation of what he has done in his career.
Homan was and still is part of the terror that reigns over immigrant communities all over the United States. His presence on Penn’s sanctuary campus not once, but twice, is an invitation for more division while violating and disrespecting the students that should feel safe here.
It says that this is okay.
We say that it isn’t.
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