By Erik Galicia
The Oct. 8 in-class arrest of a Riverside City College student by unidentified bail bond agents has some worried about the safety of the institution.
The agents were able to enter a noon time fitness class in the Wheelock Gymnasium and apprehend the student in a matter of seconds. Campus police and college officials were not made aware of the raid until after it had happened.
According to Faculty Association President Rhonda Taube, the sneak tactics employed by the agents immediately raised concerns of on-campus ICE raids possibly being conducted in a similar manner.
ICE’s website states that the agency follows a Department of Homeland Security policy that advises against conducting operations at schools and churches. But the policy does not specifically name colleges nor does it prohibit operations in those sensitive locations.
BenjaminVargas, the educational adviser for RCC’s La Casa Program, warned that the campus community must be mindful of the underhanded tactics that ICE is willing to use.
“ICE will lie,” Vargas said. “They will come in claiming to be someone else and ask, ‘Where’s this building located?’ If they do come, they’ll be on campus asking questions. I hope no one gets tricked.”
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits educational institutions from releasing student information even to family members. RCC faculty have been adamant about abiding by the federal act to protect students in the event of immigration enforcement operating on campus.
Vargas once had an unidentified man wearing a suit and badge enter La Casa, located in Room 202 of the Ralph H. Bradshaw Building, and ask for a student.
“I told him I couldn’t give him that information and redirected him to the (Charles A.) Kane Building,” Vargas said.
Soon after President Donald Trump took office, USA Today reported that colleges and universities across the country began preparing to protect their students from potential ICE raids.
“But it’s unclear how much power they actually have to shield their students,” the story read.
In February of 2017, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution declaring that the Riverside Community College District would not cooperate with ICE. But that resolution does not provide a policy that barrs outside agencies from the district’s open campuses.
After last month’s bond agent incident, RCCD Police Chief Shauna Gates reiterated the district’s no cooperation rule. She also admitted that entry is technically not prohibited to outsiders and that her hands are tied if ICE agents show up with a warrant, which students and faculty should always ask to see if confronted by an agent.
The Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigration enforcement agents to arrest undocumented individuals with the use of administrative warrants. These warrants are signed by ICE officials, not judges.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, neither arrest nor administrative warrants grant ICE agents permission to enter private areas. To enter and search a private area, agents must present a search warrant signed by a judge.
RCC President Gregory Anderson explained that the campus community must understand the difference between these warrants and always direct outside agencies to the Charles A. Kane Building if approached.
The district is working on a “no trespassing” policy that would require all outside entities to check in with campus police upon arrival at RCC. According to Monica Esqueda, the district’s manager of safety and emergency preparedness, the drafting of the policy is in its very early stages. The policy would employ the use of a state penal code that authorizes a campus’s chief administrative officer to direct outsiders to leave the premises if they are interfering with the “peaceful conduct” of campus activities.
“Our legal counsel will look at it and see if any changes have to be made,” Esqueda said. “Once it’s approved by the attorney, it’ll go to shared governance and then to the Board of Trustees.”
RCC student Silvestre Tomas expressed concern over the lack of visible security on campus.
“I don’t really see security around,” he said. “I think we need increased police patrols.”
Another RCC student, Selenia Serrano, recalled the February 2018 suicide of a student in the parking structure. She explained that the suicide may not have taken place if the victim would have noticed security patrols.
“The thing about this campus is that it’s not gated,” Serrano said. “I think it’s pretty scary that anyone can come in and do things unnoticed.”
Serrano also suggested that instructors should be required to lock their doors at the beginning of class in an attempt to shield students from ICE.
“I can bring the issue to the other two presidents (in the district) and the student trustee,” Angel Contreras, Associated Students of Riverside City College president, said about Serrano’s suggestion.
Contreras also agreed to push for the presence of ICE on campus to be included in RCC’s emergency text message system.
“All faculty must be aware of what to do,” Contreras said. “Out of all three campuses (in the district), RCC has the highest number of undocumented students. We want those undocumented students to be able to participate.”
Vargas urged that allies of DREAMERS look out for their undocumented peers.
“Luckily, we haven’t had an ICE raid,” Vargas said. “We need a culture that cares and supports these students.”