UA apologizes to Mexican official
Arizona Daily Star

Activists demanded Spanish-speaker talk in English or provide interpreter

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

By Lourdes Medrano

University of Arizona President Peter Likins has issued a formal written apology to a Mexican official whose Spanish-language talk Friday was cut short by immigration restrictionists who loudly demanded that he speak in English or provide an interpreter.
"It is OK to criticize the university for not providing a translation," Likins said in a telephone interview. "But to shout down the speaker was unacceptable, rude and also illegal."
Likins said he also will extend a written invitation to Mauricio Farah, a national inspector with Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, asking him to return. Next time, Farah will speak on the main campus with his remarks translated into English, the president said.
The incident reflected badly on the university, "where freedom of speech and the right to be heard is a precious right," Likins said, adding that it is a violation of law to disrupt the educational process on campus.
Farah's talk at the University Services Annex was canceled after several people who favor a crackdown on illegal immigration became unruly, insisting that he discuss "Migration, Shared Responsibility," in English or that he offer an interpreter. UA police were called to restore order.
University officials have said the talk was promoted in Spanish only, but some said they had learned about it in the Arizona Daily Star, which published a brief story about it Feb. 19. The story did not specify the lecture would be in Spanish.
Laine Lawless, director of Border Guardians and a self-described "nativist" who attended Farah's talk, expressed surprise about Likins' apology.
"The (Mexican) official should apologize to us and the president of the university and the taxpayers of Arizona. . . . The behavior of the people exercising free speech was disruptive. But (Farah) was also disrespecting America's sovereignty."
But Kristin Roth, a Humane Borders volunteer who doesn't speak Spanish but attended Farah's talk to show her support, welcomed Likins' apology.
"I'm happy that the president is doing what he can to rectify the situation. It was just shameful that it happened," said Roth, one of several Tucsonans who discussed the incident with Likins Friday.
Now back in Mexico City, Farah said that despite the unpleasantness he encountered on campus, he would be willing to come back.
"The intention is to contribute with ideas so that together both countries can seek solutions to the migration phenomenon," he said.
Farah's visit was sponsored by MX Sin Fronteras, a Spanish-language publication, and Educamexus, an online educational services program also in Spanish for Mexican expatriates. Educamexus is managed by the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration, a network of more than 140 colleges and universities.
Farah's visit came after Mexico's National Human Rights Commission canceled an agreement with Tucson's Humane Borders to publish and distribute to migrants in Mexico thousands of maps showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in the Arizona desert.
The maps sparked widespread criticism in the United States.
● Contact reporter Lourdes Medrano at 573-4347 or