Northeastern University students yelled "ICE has got to go," while marching through the school's quad and demanded officials cancel a multimillion-dollar research contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The protest and march Wednesday was attended by students, faculty and community members. They insist having any kind of contract with ICE is "irresponsible and immoral."
Federal spending data shows that Northeastern has received $2.7 million from ICE over the last two years. The potential award amount is listed at over $7.7 million over an almost five-year period.
Northeastern said the grant isn't funding research that has anything to do with immigration enforcement.
Law professor Brook Baker, who watched protesters, said "there's a serious question raised over whether the university should be receiving research funds from ICE, which is engaged in illegal and immoral human rights violation activities at the border in accepting lawful refugees."
Glenn Pierce is a principal research scientist at the university who applied for the grant in 2016. He told The Boston Globe his work focuses on technology that could be used for terrorism, and does not deal directly with immigration enforcement.
Law student Meghan Thomas called the agreement "a slap in the face" to students.
"I can't imagine my mom being detained in a cafe to make a better life for me, my brother and my sister," she told protesters.
Thomas' parents are originally from Grenada and Aruba, but have since become citizens, she said. She was citing the recent separation of families at the southern U.S. border by governmental agencies.
She is one of many people also urging Northeastern to drop ICE as a co-op employer, and cut off grant and contract ties. Thomas started an open letter asking the university to remove a fall co-op position listed on the school's employment site for the ICE Office of policy in Washington, D.C. A screenshot shared with The Associated Press shows an unpaid position with contact material for an ICE an employee on the site. A separate petition demanding ICE drop its contract with ICE has garnered over 2,000 signatures.
Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul said the university offers learning opportunities with 3,000 employers worldwide.
"While we realize that some organizations elicit strong political views, this should never prohibit students from seeking opportunities to further their education," she said.
She added students' academic and professional goals should not be "curtailed by social and political pressure."
In response to that, Thomas said it is "sad that the university seems to value so-called academic freedom over taking the side of justice."
ICE issued a statement calling the demonstration "a misguided protest" An agency spokesman said the contract with Northeastern is aimed at studying how to better prepare for, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks involving explosives.
"Canceling such a critical research effort to help combat terrorist explosive attacks would be unproductive and short-sighted, to say the least," said John Mohan, spokesman for the New England region of ICE.
Johns Hopkins University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Vermont's state colleges also received ICE grants this year.