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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

An Open Letter to President Lee Bollinger, Earth Institute Director Alex Halliday, and NCDP Director Irwin Redlener on Columbia's contract with the Border Patrol

American Society of Pediatrics
Dear President Bollinger, Dr. Halliday, and Dr. Redlener,

We, the undersigned members of the Columbia community, are disturbed to learn that the University has a contract with the Customs and Border Protection, the arm of the US Dept. of Homeland Security that is on the front line of this Administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” and detention of migrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.

The contract is with the Earth Institute’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness to develop for the CBP “a standardized, but basic health-screening tool to help determine whether a child might need urgent medical attention” and other medical protocols.

We beg to differ with the rationale for this contract, that “the federal agencies responsible for apprehending and assuming custody of people crossing the borders illegally are beyond overwhelmed” and that “much-maligned (often unfairly) Border Patrol agents, with essentially no medical training whatsoever, are doing a thankless job.” (ibid)

The crisis at the border and in CBP detention facilities is entirely of this administration’s making. It is the desired outcome of a deliberate policy to inflict bodily and psychic harm on asylum seekers, adults and children alike, under the guise of “deterrence.” CBP continues to separate children and infants from their parents. It confiscates migrants’ clothing, toothbrushes, and medicines when they are placed in detention. Migrants have inadequate access to water and food. The camps are kept at 55 degrees and lights are kept on 24 hours a day. Migrants must sleep on concrete floors; many cannot even do this, as the cells are so crowded as to be standing-room only. According to some observers, the horrific conditions in these facilities meet the legal definition of torture.

Some may argue that it is possible to do a small good in the context of a large evil. Perhaps contributing professional services to the CBP to alleviate suffering is an appropriate response to this crisis. We do not believe it is possible to provide such services under the aegis of CBP because the administration in general, and CBP in particular, has created this crisis in the first place. Well-intentioned actions clash with the agency’s mandate to implement an inhumane policy and its toxic culture. Worse, such actions may legitimate the CBP, which has no interest in attending to the medical needs of migrants. Legal advocates (including Columbia law professor Elora Mukherjee) have gone to court to gain access for independent doctors and a public health expert at the CBP facilities along the border. Notably, John Sandler, the acting director of the CBP, who reportedly reached out to Columbia to develop a screening tool, resigned on June 25 amidst outcry over conditions in detention camps. DHS's inspector general report (July 2) corroborate findings of independent monitors.

There are many ways for us to positively assist migrants in this crisis. Columbia faculty and students have provided independent translation, legal, and medical services at the border and elsewhere for migrants and asylum seekers. Columbia Law School's immigration clinic and Medical School's asylum clinic are two institutional venues that have responded to the current crisis. But we believe the University should have nothing to do with Customs and Border Patrol. Contracting with CBP is at odds with Columbia’s ethics, which led the University to divest from private prison and detention contractors. Regardless of good intentions, the CBP contract is a stain on our conscience and reputation as an institution that upholds human rights and ethical practices. We cannot work for concentration camps. We demand that Columbia cancel its contract with the CBP.



  Mae Ngai
Faculty History


  Nara Milanich
Faculty History, Barnard


  Shamus Khan
Faculty Chair, Sociology


  Dhananjay Jagannathan
Faculty Department of Philosophy


  Anupama Rao
Faculty History, Barnard College and


  Michael Harris
Faculty Mathematics


  Karen Van Dyck
Faculty Classics Department


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Faculty School of the Arts


  Michael Thaddeus
Faculty Department of Mathematics


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Faculty Associate Professor, Film/School
  of Arts


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Faculty Columbia Law School


  Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Faculty Barnard College Department of


  Naor Ben-Yehoyada
Faculty Anthropology


  Shelly Silver
Faculty Visual Arts, School of the Arts


Faculty English and Comparative Literature


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Faculty History


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Faculty Institute for the Study of Human


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Faculty Mailman School of Public Health


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Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Gauri Viswanathan
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Jessica Collins
Faculty Philosophy


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Faculty Department of Anthropology &
  Director of the Human Rights Program, Barnard


  Herb Sloan
Faculty Professor Emeritus, Department of
  History, Barnard


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Faculty Department of English and
  Comparative Literature


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Faculty Journalism and Sociology


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Faculty Religion / MESAAS


Faculty Dept. of Germanic Languages, ICLS


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  Literatures, Institute for the Study of Human Rights


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Alumni BC 02, SIPA 03, Assistant
  Professor Johns Hopkins


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  Anthropology; Director, Center for Study of Social Difference


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  Barnard College


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  Comparative Literature


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  the Study of Race & Ethnicity (CSER)


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  Political Science University of Florida


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  School of the Arts, Film


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  of American Studies /History, University of Virginia


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  of Chicago


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  of Asian & Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard; CC '86


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  Director, Columbia Oral History Research Office


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  Government and Professor of Anthropology


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  Barnard College


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  Literature; MESAAS


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  and Race


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  Studies, Barnard College


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  and Sciences


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  Curriculum and Teaching


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  School of Social Work ‘22


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  Literature and Society


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Non-Columbia affiliate Yale University


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Alumni School of the Arts


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  African Diaspora Studies


Faculty Teachers College


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Non-Columbia affiliate Independent Researcher and Former
  Acting First Lady, East Timor (Timor Leste)


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Alumni GSAS ‘90


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Faculty History and American Studies


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Student GSAS


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Alumni GS


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Alumni Columbia College


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Alumni Columbia College


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Alumni College


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Faculty Political Science, Barnard College


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Faculty History


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Faculty Department of Art History and


Faculty MESAAS


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Faculty School of the Arts/Film


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Staff Epidemiology, Mailman School of
  Public Health


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Non-Columbia affiliate Ball State University


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Student GSAS


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Student GSAS


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Non-Columbia affiliate University of Maryland student


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Student GSAS


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Faculty Germanic Languages


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Faculty Art History


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Student Germanic Languages (GSAS)


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Faculty University Professor, Columbia


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