Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University have all recently ended contracts with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The cancellations came after ongoing protests by university students, faculty, and the general public. The protests may also have precipitated the July 5 resignation of John Sanders, former acting CBP commissioner.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital Canceled Contract
On September 12, Medscape Medical News reported that Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, Massachusetts, was planning to cancel its $150,000 contract with CBP, which the hospital announced 5 days later. The contract was to provide expert guidance for medical triage protocols at the US-Mexico border and was originally set to end on June 16, 2020.
“Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, an emergency physician and humanitarian expert, had a consulting contract to advise the CBP regarding necessary medical services for children arriving at the border. Dr VanRooyen’s expertise has not been sought as a result of this contract, there have been no financial transactions, and the contract is in the process of being canceled. We are not aware of any other contract with CBP or ICE,” a hospital spokesperson told Medscape Medical News in an August 21 statement.
“Dr VanRooyen canceled the contract after his contact at CBP left the organization,” a hospital spokesperson previously told Medscape Medical News
A BWH spokesperson was unable to confirm the identity of VanRooyen’s contact by press time.
Four Johns Hopkins Contracts Will Not Be Renewed
The university decided not to renew the contract because of “complications related to the contracting process, including some delays in notification by the agency regarding its intentions,” Kim Hoppe, MA, senior director of public relations and corporate communications at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in an October 28 statement to Medscape Medical News. Because of those delays, “the Department of Emergency Medicine had to reallocate the substantial resources required to manage the program to other unrelated departmental activities.”
Johns Hopkins students and faculty have been protesting against the ICE contracts and against the university’s plan to create a separate armed police force. On February 6 of this year, approximately 150 students and faculty walked out of class in protest.
On April 3, students and others staged a sit-in at the university’s Garland Hall; on May 1, protesters locked down the building, “chaining doors shut, covering windows and forcing the administration building to close during the final week of the university’s spring semester,” according to an article published May 8 in the Baltimore Sun. The sit-in ended with the arrests of seven protesters on May 8.
The Hopkins Coalition Against ICE sent a letter to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Law Enforcement Medicine requesting detailed information about its contracts with ICE on July 22. As of mid-November, they had received no response, Zackary Berger, MD, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.
Berger is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, core faculty at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and a staff physician at Esperanza Health Center, all in Baltimore, and is a member of the coalition.
In total, four contracts between Johns Hopkins and ICE have expired during 2019. A fifth contract with ICE for $144,878 is currently active and set to expire on March 31, 2020, according to USASpending.gov.
Columbia Canceled One Contract, Declined Another
Columbia University canceled a $150,000 contract with CBP on September 25 of this year. The contract — to provide medical protocols for individuals attempting to cross the US-Mexico border — began on May 29, and was originally set to end on May 31, 2020.
“In addition, a ‘modification to cancel order’ was issued regarding work for [Department of Homeland Security] that was being contemplated by the University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. The notification reflects that there had been discussions about a contract but that the parties ultimately did not finalize the agreement,” Caroline Adelman, media relations director in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City, said in a statement to Medscape Medical News on October 28.
In July, several faculty members sent a petition to the university protesting the contract.
“[W]e 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,” the petition reads. More than 300 students, faculty, and alumni signed the petition.
Faculty member and attorney Elora Mukherjee was deeply concerned by conditions at a CBP facility in Clint, Texas, when she was there last summer. She was one of a small group of lawyers who went there as a monitor for the Flores Settlement Agreement. Mukherjee, a clinical professor of law and director of Columbia Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, has worked on and off for more than 12 years with children and families seeking asylum who have been subject to detention.
“I’ve seen lots of horrible, shocking things, but never before had I witnessed such degrading and appalling conditions for children in federal immigration custody as what I saw in Clint in June 2019,” she told Medscape Medical News.