Obama's DHS secretary cancels graduation speech after students criticize administration's 'inhumane detention facilities' along Mexico border

Jeh Johnson, who served as the Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017 during the second Obama administration, was invited to deliver the commencement speech at Vassar College for the class of 2022.

In a now-deleted article published by The Miscellany News, Vassar’s campus paper, students expressed their opposition to Johnson.

After student uproar over his immigration legacy, a high-ranking official from the Obama administration will no longer deliver the commencement speech at Vassar College.

Jeh Johnson, who served as the Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017 during the second Obama administration, was invited by the college to deliver the commencement speech for the class of 2022. However, Johnson drew the ire of some Vassar students due to his involvement with the Obama administration’s immigration policy, which students viewed as overly strict.

In a now-deleted article published by The Miscellany News, Vassar’s campus paper, students expressed their opposition to Johnson. 

Vassar senior Ethan Rose was quoted in the article, saying “[Johnson’s] record in the public/private sectors and his material impact on the world and on marginalized groups…ought to disqualify him from coming to speak to the graduating class.”

“It just seems to me that asking that a commencement speaker not have a record of overseeing the construction of inhumane detention facilities is a pretty low bar,” he continued.

Rose’s statement was likely in reference to the Obama administration’s construction of residential centers to temporarily house illegal immigrants as they were processed by authorities. 

These centers were constructed due to the surge of migrants, especially children, attempting to illegally enter the country during the spring and summer of 2014.

Additionally, Vassar senior Oona Maloney accused Johnson of being “someone who played a key role in the Obama administration by exacting violence on marginalized peoples in the Middle East and at the border in the name of protecting US imperial interests.”

Similarly, Vassar senior Harriet Rose-Barwick hinted that “many students will refuse to indulge such a speaker, and if he does end up coming, the administration should expect student protest and disruption.” 

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One Vassar alumni took the criticisms a step further, arguing that former secretary Johnson committed “war crimes.”

However, the article was later deleted by the editors because the majority of students quoted in it were White. Vassar College is 57% White, not counting White international students.

In a statement seeking to “emphasize [their] values of diversity and inclusion,” The Miscellany News’ editorial board stated that “the majority of our quotations came from white students,” which they claim “reduced the positions of students of color to a singular, tokenized perspective.” 

The board called their own actions “misguided and insensitive”. At the end of their statement, the paper’s editors pledged to create an independent review board “that aims to examine quotes and sources to ensure both their veracity and the integrity of their representation within the article.”

Johnson formally withdrew from the commencement on February 14. He wrote a short piece for Vassar’s newspaper detailing his rationale. 

Johnson said that he believes “commencements should be joyous, tension-free events for graduates and their families” and that he does not want “to be the object of controversy or speak at a commencement where students will object to me.”

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“Immigration is a difficult and painful issue,” he continued, “leaders with a sense of humanity are often faced with less than perfect choices, sometimes nothing but ugly choices, but we always try to do the right thing.” 

Johnson pointed out that “the number of deportations from our country went down, the percentage of those deported who were convicted of serious offenses went up, and the number of young people enrolled in DACA went up” during his tenure as DHS Secretary. 

After Johnson bowed out of commencement, the college replaced him with Colombian-born actor John Leguizamo.

Campus Reform contacted The Miscellany News’ editorial board to inquire as to whether the review board may impose a quota for the number of minority quotes included in certain stories. 

Additionally, all others individuals and institutions named above have been approached for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.