Law School Dean Annette Clark announced the decision to suspend the externship in an Oct. 31 email to campus.

Share story

After pressure from students, Seattle University School of Law administrators suspended its externship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

An externship provides students with legal work experience for school credit. Externs for ICE work in its legal office, which represents the government in deportation proceedings and provides legal advice and training.

Alex Romero, a third-year law student who wants to be an immigration lawyer, noticed representatives from ICE at a table at a law-school externship fair in late September. Romero met with administrators and told them this could be frightening for undocumented students and went against the school’s mission.

Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and City University of Seattle. Learn more about Ed Lab 

Seattle University is a Jesuit Catholic private school. Its mission statement includes the phrase “empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” In June, the law school joined other Jesuit organizations in condemning the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

Romero said administrators didn’t promise to make any changes, so he created an online petition. The petition had received 468 signatures in about a week when Law School Dean Annette Clark announced the decision to suspend the externship, in an Oct. 31 email to campus. The email was first reported on by The Spectator, Seattle University’s student paper.

“As educators, lawyers, and soon-to-be-lawyers, we hold particular power and bear a special responsibility to be peacemakers and to assist those who are suffering due to the unjust operation of our legal system, laws, and their enforcement,” the email stated.

Seattle University has not had students in the ICE externship for several years, Clark wrote. It was one of more than 800 placements the school offers, law school spokesperson Claudine Benmar said.

Clark, the dean, wrote that the suspension came in response to ICE’s “current policies and practices” and that the decision will not affect externships with other federal agencies.

An ICE official said the decision is a disservice to students and was based on inaccurate information about the ICE representatives’ presence on campus.

In a statement, ICE’s principal legal adviser Tracy Short said the agency’s sensitive-locations policy “largely precludes” ICE enforcement on campuses “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“It’s disheartening that an institution dedicated to teaching the laws of this country and whose core values include justice and diversity would prevent its students from gaining valuable professional experience in the fields of immigration and customs law,” Short said, also pointing out that the university receives some federal funding.

During the suspension, ICE representatives will not participate in externship fairs on campus.

A suspension isn’t quite what Romero sought, but he’s glad the university at least moved in that direction. He said he has a personal stake in the issue, and hopes administrators know other students do, too.

“This is something that’s not just politics, it’s something that really hurts me personally. Seattle University needs to be made accountable to the promise it made during orientation, the promise that brought me to this school,” he said, referring to the school’s social-justice mission.

He said he hopes other schools will also suspend or terminate their ICE externships.