A Victory for the Immigrants’ Rights Working Group of Historians for Peace and Democracy

On January 5, 2020, the Business Meeting of the American Historical Association passed a resolution condemning affiliations between ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and higher education. The resolution was proposed by the Immigrants’ Rights Working Group, a part of Historians for Peace and Democracy.

The voting took place at the annual Business Meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in New York City. Seventy AHA members voted in favor of the resolution while sixty opposed it.

The resolution urges university faculty, staff and administrators to sever existing ties and forgo future contracts with ICE and USCBP and supports sanctuary movements on campuses that seek to protect immigrant students and workers. It then went to the AHA Council, which is charged with determining whether to approve or reject it.

Five people spoke in favor of the resolution and five spoke against it.

Alex Aviña introduced the resolution and explained why he supported it. “As a son of migrants who were undocumented for two decades and as a professor who teaches undocumented students in the borderlands, I urge the AHA to take a stand against state terrorism and encourage AHA members to push their universities to cut ties with ICE and the Border Patrol; and to help turn our universities into sanctuaries.”

The arguments against the AHA passing the resolution ranged from the position that ICE plays a positive role in keeping the United States safe to the notion that taking a stance on ICE lies beyond the purview of the AHA and politicizes the organization.  

Supporters of the resolution, including Margaret Power and Ashley Black, argued that the AHA should oppose ICE operations on campuses because the federal institution poses a direct threat to undocumented students, faculty, and staff on our campuses, as well as to their families and the communities in which they live.

Far from promoting an atmosphere conducive to free speech and the exchange of ideas, factors that are essential to maintaining a quality educational environment, ICE engenders fear and terror.

Furthermore, it has committed gross human rights abuses by separating children from their parents or imprisoning them in cages, confining people in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and denying people their constitutional right to seek asylum. 

On January 31, 2020, the AHA Council published a list of actions it had taken from June 2019 to January 2020. Here is what they have decided regarding the ICE Resolution. We quote them in full. They: 

Referred the ‘Resolution Condemning Affiliations between ICE and Higher Education,’ which was adopted by a majority of the members present at the AHA business meeting, to the AHA general counsel for a legal opinion as specified in Article 7 of the AHA’s Constitution. Council will veto the resolution if it requires the Association to support activities that violate federal, state, or local laws. If the general counsel indicates no legal concerns, Council will subsequently consider action on the resolution. If the general counsel recommends a veto due to legal concerns, Council will consider a new resolution at its June 2020 meeting on the issues raised in the petition that would conform to legal requirements and the mission of the AHA.

We continue to await a final decision from the AHA. In the meantime we encourage anyone interested to check out our website, and to contact Margaret Power (power AT itt DOT edu) or Alex Aviña (alexander.avina AT asu DOT edu)

¡La lucha sigue!

Author bios:

Margaret Power is a Professor of Latin American History at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Alex Aviña is an Associate Professor of Latin American History at Arizona State University.