April 15, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘Governor Cuomo Kicks off Ithaca Airport Renovations to Send the Region Soaring’

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To the editor:

Among Cornellians who have caught wind of the Tompkins County Airport expansion project, support for the initiative seems strong. If followed through with, local air travel will no longer look the same. Yes, Cornell students applying for high-salary jobs in cities ranging from Toronto to London will be able to more easily travel to interviews. Sure, President Pollack’s non-public roster of endless global expeditions will occur with greater ease. But those truly paying attention realize that these perceived benefits to our Ivy League institution will come at a deep expense to the larger community — one that’s already immeasurably burdened by our wealthy school’s shockingly low local tax contributions.

In closed-door discussions with members of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, the airport director described the project as a means of advancing President Pollack’s push for a ‘Global Cornell.’ This loosely-defined vision’s success apparently hinges on the invitation of international corporate investment into this town, or at least into the Ivory Tower that occupies its East Hill.

Forget any perceived benefits for a moment and consider the fact the nearly $28 million initiative entails the establishment of our county’s first-ever physical and permanent Federal Customs & Border Control Protection facility. CBP atrocities are all too familiar to many of us, especially given the agency’s use of racial profiling and harassment at upstate Greyhound stations. Federal attacks on immigrant rights have brought the situation to crisis levels in recent years, ones that stands to be heightened by this latest iteration of the local development craze.

That being said, we express indignation at just how close the airport deal is to completion. We demand to know what precise role the University has played if at all in the planned expansion, including any private negotiations its leadership held with airport directors and other key stakeholders in the project.

We question whether or not our University’s ostensibly liberal administrators care at all for the children caged and separated from their families by CBP on our nation’s southern borders. Given their silence on the matter, we worry that they have failed entirely to consider how a new CBP facility will likely replicate such xenophobic crimes in our small rural corner of New York State. If there’s ever a time for the Finger Lakes region’s arguably most powerful institution to use its political capital for the human good, it’s right now. The large-scale infiltration of CBP in the Tompkins County area cannot be left unchallenged.

In conclusion, this enlarged airport will supposedly belong to and benefit us as Cornell students — or rather, those of us whose racial backgrounds and immigration statuses won’t elicit harassment from federal authorities. But read our lips: We say no. The righteous path forward is meaningful investment in the increasingly expensive, poverty-ridden towns surrounding the Cornell bubble, not high-priced developments that benefit the wealthiest among us. More than anything, we reject one of the federal government’s most sinister factions establishing a permanent base in our community. We do so not simply as a symbolic or political declaration of opposition to America’s emboldened deportation machine, but in the pursuit of sheltering our immigrant neighbors from the completion of its ultimate goal: The wholesale xenophobic ‘cleansing’ of those deemed ‘outsiders’ from White America.

We are certainly not the first to raise this issue, and rest assured will not be the last. We call on fellow members of the Cornell community to fight for an unconditional moratorium on this project, which could take the form of demanding University transparency or lending a helping hand to the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition’s ongoing grassroots campaign. A better world is possible, and anti-immigrant state terror isn’t part of it.

Steve Tarcan ’20, political chair of MEChA de Cornell

Adam Khatib ’20, president of Islamic Alliance for Justice

Christopher Hanna ’19, board chair of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center

Malikul Muhamad ’20, lead organizer of the Cornell Qatar Action Committee