Students and staff at Cornell University panicked on Tuesday after word spread that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was on campus. However, the report turned out to be false, as it was actually an an independent contractor for the federal government conducting a background check.

Campus Reform blog spotlighted the firestorm at the Ivy League school in a Wednesday post. The school was apparently already on edge due to the arrest of a “unlawfully present Mexican national” in the town of Ithaca, where the university is located.

After the arrival of the federal contractor, two student groups — Cornell DREAM Team and La Association Latina — posted social media warnings about “reports that customs and border patrol are on Cornell’s campus” and telling people to “please be careful.”

The two organizations later “posted updates on their Facebook pages alerting students that the initial rumors were false and includ[ed] screenshots of what appeared to be a text message from Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner debunking” the sighting, according to a Tuesday report from the Cornell Daily Sun student newspaper.

The publication also highlighted undergraduate concerns over the rumors:

“There are so many conflicting sources scaring the shit out of people,” Vanessa Navarro Rodriguez ’18 told The Sun…”I’m shocked [Cornell has] not handled it. Everyone is scared.”

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon:

An independent contractor for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) arrived on the Ithaca campus to conduct a routine background check related to an individual’s application for a job with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. When the contractor identified himself at a visitor booth, a false rumor quickly circulated across campus and on social media that the visitor was an officer of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Pollack cited the “great concern” after the recent ICE arrest in Ithaca, and underlined that while Cornell would “comply with lawfully issued subpoenas and warrants, it is neither the university’s practice nor expectation to function as an agent of the federal government regarding enforcement of federal immigration laws.”

The Sun report later quoted professor and “immigration scholar” Shannon Gleeson, who hyped that the rumor was “a wake-up for all parties involved” on the campus. She underlined that “if students feel under threat and they sound an alarm and they send out information … they should be commended for that.”

Gleeson also emphasized that the panic “make[s] it clear to folks that this is an issue that has great mental health implications, especially at this time of the semester.”

[image via screengrab]

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