Volume 76, Number 46 | April 11 - 17, 2007

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, Chris Simcox, president of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, speaking under the watchful eye of an N.Y.U. security guard.

Students shout, but don’t cross line vs. Minutemen

By Jefferson Siegel 

A college forum on immigration that under normal circumstances might have attracted an audience of political science students resulted in droves of protesters and major media attention at New York University on Monday. 

The appearance of Chris Simcox, co-founder of the anti-immigration group Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, at N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center sparked a pro-immigrant rights protest outside on Washington Square S. This in turn was met by a smaller counterprotest in support of the event.

As more than 100 protesters chanted, “Minutemen, Nazis, KKK — racists, fascists, go away,” Joanna Marzullo, president of New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, stood with nine other anti-immigration demonstrators in a pen near the raucous protest.

“There’s nothing racist about wanting secure borders and there’s nothing racist about wanting to enforce immigration law,” Marzullo said. 

Above, the audience erupting in boos and jeers as Chris Simcox, Minutemen Civil Defense Corps president, began speaking.

Fearing a repeat of events that occurred at Columbia University six months ago, when students rushed the stage as Minutemen Project leader Jim Gilchrist was speaking, N.Y.U. kept a tight rein on the proceedings. ID’s were checked in the Kimmel Center’s lobby, and people passed through metal detectors while their bags were searched. A flier, “NYU Guidelines Regarding Dissent/Protest,” was placed on every chair of the fourth floor Eisner-Lubin auditorium. A dozen uniformed N.Y.U. security officers, as well as several more security personnel dressed in plainclothes, were in the auditorium

The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps and Minutemen Project are two separate factions of groups formed to deter illegal U.S. border crossings. They split in December 2005 after funding disagreements. They both use the Minuteman name but otherwise have no connection.

The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps were invited to speak by the N.Y.U. College Republicans. The club had sparked outrage on campus in February, when it sponsored a “game” in which students competed to find a student wearing an “illegal immigrant” sign on campus in order to win a prize. The game drew 10 participants, and was met by several hundred angry protesters.

“I was aware of their ‘Find the Illegal Immigrant’ event,” Leah Welch, 19, said as the room filled. Welch, an N.Y.U. freshman from Chicago studying music education, added, “I thought it was abhorrent.” 

Her friend, Molly Rubin-Long, 18, a freshman from Brooklyn studying drama, offered a similar opinion.

“Free speech is free speech. However, free speech that’s going to be supported by a university where a lot of immigrants are employed is really inappropriate,” Rubin-Long said. 

More than 100 people sat patiently listening, as an N.Y.U. sociology professor and then a Temple Law School professor outlined the basic facts of current U.S. immigration policy.

Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, a group that aids immigrants crossing the desert near San Diego, also spoke.

“There’s a difference between freedom of speech and promoting hate and violence,” Morones said. Several anti-immigrant supporters jeered his comments from their seats in the front row.

When Simcox finally rose to talk, the room exploded in boos and jeers that lasted for several minutes. As several students chanted “Racists go home,” one man in the crowd unleashed a string of criticism until he was escorted out by N.Y.U. security. As Simcox began speaking, half the audience turned their chairs away from the stage in a gesture of disrespect.

“It’s a shame that, in our political activism, we have to go down to the border to get our government to pay attention,” Simcox said in defense of the Minutemen. The group voluntarily patrols the borders to try to keep out illegal immigrants.

The one-hour forum was followed by a question-and-answer session that saw audience members challenge the participants. Several in the crowd took the opportunity to give brief speeches of their own. Organizer Sarah Chambers, president of the N.Y.U. College Republicans, was nonplussed.

“It really makes you stronger when you’re constantly being forced to defend your position,” she explained. 

Speaking beforehand, John Beckman, N.Y.U.’s spokesperson, said the university had not anticipated its students would react the way the Columbia students had to the Minutemen. Nevertheless, N.Y.U. beefed up security for the event and took steps to ensure it would be peaceful and that free speech would not be abridged, he said. But N.Y.U. students generally don’t try to quash free speech, he added.

“It’s been my experience in the N.Y.U. community, that people, even when they disagree, accept the right of others to express their views and to sustain a dialogue,” he said.

Asked if the university had sought to bar the Minutemen from campus, Beckman said, “That’s not the kind of influence we seek to exert.” However, he added, “I think that coming hot on the heels of the quote unquote game that the College Republicans played back in February, some people find this a dismaying choice.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

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