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‘Up, up with education, down, down with deportation’: UAW 4121 protests recent directive on international students

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‘Up, up with education, down, down with deportation’: UAW 4121 protests recent directive on international students

Demonstrators from UAW 4121 protest a since-revoked federal regulation that wouldn't have allowed international students to remain in the country if they were taking only online classes on July 13 in downtown Seattle.

“No justice, no peace,” and the call-and-response of “Whose lives matter?”, “Black Lives Matter,” have filled many corners of this city over the past six weeks. A different set of chants competed with street noise and construction work Monday morning.

When the recent directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Student Exchange and Visitor Program threatened to deport thousands of international students unable to enroll in in-person classes due to the novel coronavirusinduced fall quarter format, outrage ensued. 

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, of Seattle, co-authored a congressional letter against the directive. A petition to accommodate international students at the UW has now drawn nearly 30,000 signatures. Professors responded with offers of in-person independent studies. Digital activists posted lists of in-person classes on social media. And the UAW Local 4121 International Solidarity Working Group took to the streets. 

At approximately 9 a.m., a small crowd of the unionized academic student employees and postdocs gathered near Great State Burger at the corner of Third Ave and Spring Street. The protest was timed to run concurrently with other action on the East Coast and in California, just one day before the hearing for Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) joint lawsuit against the federal government over the new regulation.

Unified by blue UAW t-shirts, dozens marched the short distance toward the ICE office in downtown Seattle. 

“Up, up with education!” the group chanted. “Down, down with deportation.” 

“#NoStudentBan” and “#NoDeportations” decorated UAW-provided signs — sentiments also displayed on a large canvas banner. 

“This is only part of a pattern of a litany of cruelty of ICE as a rogue agency, completely under the thumb of the Trump administration,” graduate student Lucas Vargas Zappetello said at the foot of the ICE office before introducing two international student speakers. 

Solmaz, a graduate student who preferred to be identified only by first name, reminded the attendees of the invaluable contribution of international students to the university, especially in COVID-19 research. 

“We are proud to share our knowledge and we were inspired to come here so that we could be part of a community,” Solmaz said. “Because we are part of this community.”

The next speaker, Su, a graduate student who will also be identified by first name, called the directive “cruel” and “xenophobic.” She pointed out the logistical and health concerns of international travel during a pandemic as well as challenges to remote learning in other countries, such as time differences and internet access. 

“The University of Washington can proudly stand today as a globally recognized institution because of research contributions and labor by international scholars and students,” Su said. 

Vargas Zappetello took to the megaphone again to remind protesters that “even if [international students] provided nothing, they still would not deserve the treatment this ICE directive is putting upon them.”

An organizer encouraged protesters to call the ICE office and leave a voicemail demanding the repeal of this directive. Plugging one ear to hear the operating machine over the construction across the street, dozens of protesters voiced their concerns directly to ICE. 

After the short demonstration, protesters made their way back to their starting point near Great State Burger. As the crowd marched up the hill, the faint chants of “Black Lives Matter” came into earshot. At the corner of Third and Spring, the two small groups stood on either sidewalk. The UAW protesters cheered on the Black Lives Matter protesters, some raising a fist in solidarity. 

The group against systemic racism, led by Black women, dropped their current chant and called to the group protesting the ICE Directive, “What’s outrageous?” to which the UAW protesters answered, “Kids in cages.” 

With their combined energies, the two groups began chanting in unison, “I believe that we will win,” until the protesters of police brutality continued on their march.

The UAW group, some eager to hop into the other crowd, disbanded after one final call of “We’ll be back.”

Reach reporter Hannah Krieg at Twitter: @Hannah_krieg

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