For Juan Morales, a graduate student at Florida International University, Vice President Mike Pence's visit to his college campus today dredges up memories from when he was 14 years old of the brutally divisive politics in his homeland, Venezuela. At a school with a heavily immigrant and international student population, he was far from alone in that feeling.
"This is an international school," Morales says of the Trump administration's immigration policies. "It's an insult."
Morales was among the hundred-plus students, faculty and alumni who gathered at FIU today to protest Pence, who visited the campus with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to speak at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.
Outside the conference, protesters stood by barricades and chanted, "No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here."
Activists from groups like the Students for a Democratic Society's FIU chapter — which co-organized the protest with the People's Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade and the Florida Immigrant Coalition — say they've been pushing administrators to publicly respond to Trump policies like his travel ban on Muslims.
Michelle Perez, one of two FIU students who founded SDS, co-wrote and hand-delivered letters to FIU president Mark Rosenberg about starting a task force on campus to help immigrant students impacted by the ban. But she says they heard no response.
"FIU is not listening to their students and yet, they're lending an ear to this administration which disenfranchises their minority student population," Perez says. "What does that say about FIU? What is that communicating to students?"
Stephanie Doscher, the associate director of FIU's global learning initiative, asked the crowd to commit to changing the Dade County's leadership. But she says she's happy Pence came to campus.
"That gives us an opportunity to hear and analyze the inner workings of policy," Doscher says, though she noted that no students or faculty were invited into the conference, which was hosted by U.S. Southern Command and where Pence vowed more investment in fighting corruption and drug crime in the region.
But many students at the protest weren't as open to hearing the administration's message.
Ryan Almodovar, an SDS member and protest organizer, says the diverse student body's message to Pence and the cabinet members is simple.
"Nuestra casa no es su casa," Almodovar says. "You're not welcome here. Because they're telling us that we're not welcome here."
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