A Letter to The Harvard Crimson

Act on a Dream
Nov 5 · 5 min read

Why place abstract notions of “objectivity” before the lives and safety of your peers?

Last month, Act on a Dream held a rally calling for the abolition of U.S. Immigration, Customs, & Enforcement (ICE). In their reporting of the rally, The Crimson staff contacted ICE for a comment on the protest. In response, we released a petition calling on them to apologize to the Harvard undocumented community and change this policy, which actively endangers the lives of undocumented students on campus. The Crimson refused to hear our concerns and published a letter doubling down on their decision to contact ICE.

Their defense wrongly minimized the harm of their actions and mischaracterized our concerns as an attack on the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech. Using journalistic professionalism as their shield, The Crimson has shamelessly undermined the safety of undocumented students and will continue to do so unless they rigorously interrogate and change their policy. Our concerns are not an attack on free speech or journalistic professionalism. Rather, we are advocating for the right of undocumented students to live safely, without the debilitating threat of ICE inflicted upon us by our peers. In clarifying our argument against this ignorant policy, we are reclaiming our narrative and demanding to be heard.

The danger The Crimson’s decision poses to students is not just emotional or hypothetical.

To be clear, ICE is tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. Meaning, ICE has the power to arrest any undocumented person and put them through deportation proceedings, regardless of whether they have DACA status or not. ICE poses an urgent risk to student protesters and to undocumented students themselves. In claiming that their decision to contact ICE for comment “did not place any person in harm’s way,” The Crimson blatantly ignores the credible danger caused by their policy. In the past year alone, 20 undocumented activists have been actively targeted and arrested by ICE.

College students are in no way exempt from the threat of ICE. Just this past May, ICE arrested an undocumented college student three days after they spoke out publicly against the agency. In calling ICE for comment, The Crimson directly notified them that an article was going to be published about the demonstration, one which contained full names and class years of students. The risk this poses is a legitimate one: ICE and CBP have no problem targeting college students, even Harvard students.

To be clear, the fact that The Crimson failed to inform their sources — several of whom are undocumented, and therefore extremely vulnerable to detainment — that ICE would be contacted, constitutes a serious breach of journalistic ethics and professionalism. The Crimson failed to perform the bare minimum of informing their sources of the possible consequences of going on the record, an action that professional immigration journalists refer to as common ethical practice. Their argument that they waited until the protest was over before contacting ICE confirms that The Crimson recognizes, at some level, the danger associated with alerting ICE of the protest. Yet, regardless of how or when ICE was contacted, names of undocumented individuals were ultimately published without consideration of the genuine threat ICE poses on our community.

Refusal to acknowledge the dangers of their reporting is blatantly irresponsible journalism.

Given ICE’s long history of affiliation with anti-immigrant hate groups, violating laws, targeting activists, and using the internet to surveil immigrant communities, a request for comment is functionally the same as tipping them off to the actions and whereabouts of undocumented students, especially when Crimson policy strictly requires the publication of full names.

In light of the legitimate threat ICE poses on undocumented communities, The Crimson must take additional steps to ensure the safety of undocumented students and to center ethics within their reporting policies.

Beyond failing to inform those interviewed about potential risks, The Crimson has demonstrated inconsistency with their own reporting procedures. There was no need for The Crimson to elevate a student protest to a level of national importance that would require a direct response from a government agency, especially considering the legitimate danger associated with their actions. The Crimson has historically not reached out to ICE or DHS for comment on events hosted by Act on a Dream.

More broadly, The Crimson has been inconsistent in their decision to reach out to government agencies in response to student protest or university criticisms. They did not contact the Trump administration when students protested the Muslim ban or when President Bacow criticized the new Title IX policy proposals, nor did they contact ICE when HUPD participated in an Anti-ICE rally in Boston. Why enforce this policy now when students’ lives are directly at risk? These contradictory policies point to a fundamental flaw in their claim to objective journalism.

The Crimson’s inconsistent practice of requesting comments from government agencies suggests that the reporting protocol is at best arbitrary and insensitive, and at worse, malicious and xenophobic.

The Crimson’s claims that critics are trying to censor the press and undermine freedom of speech is woefully misleading, given that The Crimson is irresponsibly choosing to weaponize the first amendment against a vulnerable community. In fact, their actions directly threaten the freedom of speech of undocumented individuals on this campus by instilling fear into our community. An undocumented person’s ability to speak out publicly, in this political climate, is under more threat than ever. In choosing to prioritize abstract notions of “objective journalism” over the lives and freedoms of undocumented students, The Crimson has actively chosen to endanger members of their own community.

The Crimson, as a student news publication, has a unique responsibility as a part of a greater campus community. Ultimately, these are our fellow peers explicitly alerting a federal agency with the power of deportation of our actions. Their staff are students who eat in our dining halls, live in our dorms, and attend classes with their community of readers and contributors. Their reporting does not exist in a vacuum, and their actions can have drastic implications on vulnerable members of their own community.

As our peers, they have an obligation to prioritize the safety and security of the students on whom they are reporting.

Their lack of sympathy or consideration of the legitimate danger caused by their irresponsible actions has shown us that the well-being of the whole student body is not a priority for them. The only way that The Crimson can repair the harm they have inflicted on the undocumented community is to listen, apologize, and change their policy.

Act on a Dream

Written by

A student-led advocacy organization at Harvard College that advocates for the larger immigrant community.

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