At first, the University of Arizona was helpful. “I got a call from the Dean of Students Office,” Denisse Melchor said. “They’re like, ‘Are you okay, we’ve been receiving so many threats naming you.’”
Then a local Border Patrol union leader started lashing out against her on the radio. Now Melchor and another student are facing criminal charges, brought by the University of Arizona’s own police force.
Melchor, 20, and fellow student Mariel Bustamante, 22, became the center of a media firestorm last month, after a viral video showed students protesting Border Patrol agents at the University of Arizona. This week, the school charged both students with “interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution,” for which they face up to six months in jail. In a letter to students, the school’s president accused the young women of infringing on “free speech” rights with their alleged protest.
But Melchor said she’s the one facing a threat to her free speech. “I feel like this is an attempt to silence me,” she told The Daily Beast.
Video of the protest shows a student criticizing two Border Patrol agents through an open classroom door, where they are speaking to the university’s Criminal Justice club. The student calls the agents “Murder Patrol,” and other students take up the chant later as the agents get into their car. As the video racked up views in conservative media, Melchor began receiving threats, and at first, the university offered assistance, she said.
But a relatively neutral statement on the incident from the university’s student government drew the ire of a local Border Patrol union. In a Facebook statement, the union called the protest an “attack” on “Caucasian students.”
National Border Patrol Council Vice President Art Del Cueto took the provocation further. In a radio interview, he told listeners to “send me the names of the actual illegal aliens at the school and their addresses and I will be glad, on behalf of the Border Patrol union, to send any type of information when agents are going to be at their school.”
After the union and Del Cueto began their offensive, the university changed its attitude, Melchor said.
“After del Cueto started coming out and putting pressure on the school and UAPD [University of Arizona Police] to investigate, it’s like the Dean of Students went silent with me and stopped checking in.”
The university pushed back on the claim. "To my knowledge, the dean of students continues to work with the students," a university spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
Melchor described the school as unequal in its treatment of disruption on campus. She cited the case of “Brother Dean Saxton,” a hate preacher who made a name for standing on campus screaming obscenities about women and LGBT people.
“We all remember Brother Dean Saxton,” she said. “He’d yell at people walking by, at women, saying ‘you deserve to get raped,’ saying people who wear leggings deserve to get raped. He’d sit out there for hours, yelling and yelling. They let him get to the point where he kicked someone in the chest.”
In her case, however, Melchor has had to hand over her phone to university police, and has not received it back nearly a week later. A school detective told her its return “‘could be days, could be weeks, could be months.’ That’s my only form of communication. I’m a student living in Tucson, my family lives in another city,” she said. “I feel like they’re just using intimidation tactics.”
She said the investigation won’t stop opposition to Border Patrol on campuses like hers.
“This has been something people have been fighting before, since before I was even thinking about going to college,” she said, citing three Mexican teenagers who were fatally shot while standing in Mexico, by Border Patrol agents standing on the U.S. side.
“The presence of Border Patrol on campus is traumatizing for students; it’s triggering for students. The safety of students and their ability to be in an education environment where they can continue their studies comfortably should be the number one priority for the university.”