‘A slap in the face’: Outrage after ICE lawyers invited to NYU Law event

After the NYU School of Law announced an event featuring two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys, students have signed a petition in protest.


Kevin Wu

File photo: The entrance of the Vanderbilt Hall of the NYU School of Law. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Abby Wilson, News Editor

More than 80 students and faculty are calling on the NYU School of Law to cancel an upcoming career event featuring two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys. The Immigration Rights Project, a student advocacy group at the school, has published a petition condemning the choice to host the agency. 

ICE has been criticized for many of its practices, including separating children from their families and providing substandard healthcare in migrant detention centers.

“I don’t think it ever should have been planned in the first place,” said Geneva Gist, co-chair of the Immigrants Rights Project. “NYU claims to be a safe space for immigrants — this is not the place to be inviting ICE agents. It should be canceled and I don’t think this kind of event should happen again.”

Attorneys Marie Akalski (who graduated from NYU Law in 2002) and Dennis Shelton are scheduled to speak to students about their work in immigration and customs enforcement at the agency’s New York City Field Office on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 4. Gail Zweig, the director of NYU Law’s Public Interest Law Center, sent out information about the event in an email with the subject line “Some opportunities that may interest students interested in government work.”

At press time, 87 individuals and four student organizations — Law Students for Justice in Palestine, NYU’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the school’s Federal Defender Clinic and the universitywide Student Government Assembly — had already signed the petition, which was first distributed on Thursday, Oct. 27.

ICE claims to protect national security and safety by conducting criminal investigations and enforcing immigration law. Last year, the agency’s officers arrested 74,082 immigrants and deported 59,011 — a sharp drop from the 185,000 deportations it carried out in 2020.

“The meeting with ICE attorneys is part of a brown bag lunch series hosted over Zoom that features lawyers from a broad range of government employers,” Emily Rosenthal, an NYU Law spokesperson, told WSN. “We understand that the work done by some employers is controversial and respect the right of people in our community to voice their objections.”

The “Public Defender Brown Bag Lunch” is hosted once a week by the Public Interest Law Center at NYU Law, and many of the weekly events are listed on the center’s website. This event was not listed. The petition from the Immigrant Rights Project suggested that the center did not widely promote the event on purpose.

“The Public Interest Law Center has surreptitiously invited people that actively do harm to the immigrant communities, presumably because of the obvious backlash such an event would invite,” the petition reads.

Gist, the Immigrant Rights Project co-chair, who is a second-year law student, said that the event goes against the values of many students involved with the Public Interest Law Center — many of whom work in the nonprofit and governmental sectors of law.

“The vast majority of those students are committed to social justice and human rights,” Gist said. “For the Public Interest Law Center, which is supposed to be supporting us, to also be inviting a group that’s so violent and oppressive — it’s just really a slap in the face.”

The Immigrant Rights Project also plans to host a picnic discussion about immigration advocacy work during the time of the event.

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected].