Anthony Gockowski, Campus Reform
Cornell University students were sent into a panic Tuesday after rumors quickly spread that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was on campus.
But according to a statement from the school’s newly-appointed president, Martha Pollack, the individual was actually “an independent contractor for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management” (OPM) who was conducting “a routine background check related to an individual’s application with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
“When the contractor identified himself at a visitor booth, a false rumor quickly circulated across campus and on social media that the visitor was an officer of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Pollack explained, though she also absolved the over-anxious gossipers, asserting that “it is understandable in light of recent, local action by ICE, that this news—while inaccurate—would be met with great concern.”
At least two student organizations had inaccurately alerted students to the presence of an ICE agent on campus prior to Pollack’s statement, prompting terrified reactions from many students and faculty.
“Dear Cornell Community, we have just gotten word that a Customs and Border Patrol agent(s) is on campus. Please check in with your fellow peers and let us know if you need absolutely anything from us,” the “Cornell DREAM Team” posted to its Facebook, even offering “legal help” to any students in need.
Similarly, an organization known as “La Association Latina” warned that “there have been reports that customs and border patrol are on Cornell’s campus,” asking students to “please be careful.”
While both organizations eventually updated their alerts to clarify there was actually “no agent on campus,” the rumor had already spread widely, causing a panic among students exemplified by a Facebook post declaring that “ICE is on Cornell Campus” and demanding “sanctuary now!!!”
One professor, Jesse Goldatore, informed his students via Facebook that “this is not a drill,” adding that “ICE is on campus today” and linking to a screenshot alleging that the University Counsel’s Office had “confirmed that ICE is on campus today.”
According to one student on Twitter, an “urgent” email was even being circulated to inform students of ICE’s presence on campus, while a classmate, Vanessa Rodriguez, told The Cornell Sun that there were “so many conflicting sources scaring the shit out of people.”
Professor Shannon Gleeson called the rumors a “wake-up call for all parties involved,” saying the false alarm will “make it clear to folks that this is an issue that has great mental health implications.”
In her statement, which was criticized for allegedly coming nearly two hours after the initial rumors, Pollack embraced the opportunity to reiterate Cornell’s commitment to sanctuary campus policies such as refusing to divulge student information or otherwise cooperate with ICE.
“Among the greatest strengths of our campus community is its diversity,” she concluded. “As we acknowledge and celebrate that diversity, we will work to continually support and defend the most vulnerable among us.”
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