Border Patrol’s campus visit causes controversy


Photos courtesy of Viktoria Zerda

Alex Birnel

Photos courtesy of Viktoria Zerda
Photos courtesy of Viktoria Zerda

“They mentioned gathering up illegals at UTSA and sending them off in a van,” says senior Anthropology major Viktoria Zerda. “They said it in a joking manner.”

She is referring to an exchange she and another student had with agents of the U.S. Border Patrol last week.

The agents were tabling in the McKinney Humanities Building to recruit UTSA students. The recruitment efforts involved pamphlets featuring FAQ’s and photographs, lanyards with “border patrol” insignia and the opportunity to pose questions about the job to active agents.

For Zerda, however, this scene did not represent innocuous recruitment.

Instead, she says that when it comes to the presence of Border Patrol, it’s important to remember location.

“We’re in South Texas, it’s mostly Mexicans, people with a Latino background,” she says. “This is not the Canadian border.”

Zerda stresses that it’s regional-cultural dimensions that make it crucial for UTSA to be mindful of what organizations it invites on campus.

UTSA is a Hispanic Serving Institution, or HSI. This designation means that an institution has an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least comprised of 25 percent Hispanic students. As of Spring 2015, 48 percent of students on campus identified themselves as “Hispanic of any race.”  According to a 2013 article in the San Antonio Express News, at least 253 students on campus are undocumented.

In addition to the near majority of Hispanic students attending UTSA, the campus is home to a Mexican American Studies Program, offers a minor in Latin American Studies and opened the Mexico Center in 2005 to promote greater knowledge and understanding of Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations.

Awareness of UTSA’s cultural life, notable for its inclusion of Hispanic faculty, staff and students, is what led Zerda to condemn the presence of Border Patrol on campus. She said the agents’ initial decorum quickly ceded way to bigotry and chauvinism.

When another student asked about border patrol agents slashing water jugs left along the travel routes by NGO groups, one agent proclaimed he’s “proud to deprive migrants of water” as a disincentive to travel. According to Zerda these remarks defend a false idea of patriotism and nationalism. By engaging in such behavior, they are perpetuating xenophobic culture while violating basic human rights.

Before they packed up their recruitment table, a small group of students made a poster with the words “STAY OFF MY CAMPUS” and posed in front of the agents.

Afterward, these students sent an email to Career Services spelling out their concerns with the university hosting the agency. In response, the office explained their partnership procedures.

All employers who wish to be on campus are reviewed and scheduled through career services in accordance with the UTSA Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP). Prior to conducting any activities, the office ensures that they are made aware of our policies and procedures.

“The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and their representatives have always been compliant with the recruiting parameters of UTSA,” says Audrey Magnuson, director of UTSA University Career Center. The email included that the border patrol agent in charge of recruitment that day was a UTSA alumni.

In spite of this obstacle, the students can claim a small victory. After attracting attention with their poster, a student stopped them asking what had happened. “Border patrol was here. They just left,” they replied. “What?” the student responded thanking those who had confronted the agents. The student was undocumented.