Immigration, Justice, and Civil Society AT USF

Eli MacDonald 
Staff Writer

Valeria Vera is a senior graduating this May who identifies as an immigrant. She was one of a large number of students who attended the panel, “US Immigration Law and Civil Society: The Road to Executive Action and Beyond” on Tuesday, Mar. 23. Vera explained her interest in the panel: “In very simple words, what interests me is the fact that humanity is so often left out of issues of citizenship and immigration.” 

Hosted by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) in conjunction with USF, the panel featured three experts on immigration policy. Charles Wheeler, the Senior Attorney and Director of Training and Legal Support for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, focused on framing the issue of immigration in the United States within a history of anti-immigrant sentiment. “Anti-immigrant sentiment is one of the reliable constants in our political theater. Both in policy and popular support, it goes all the way back to the colonies,” he began.

Wheeler contributed to a recently completed book “International Migration, US Immigration Law and Civil Society: From the Colonial Era to the 113th Congress”, as did fellow panelist Sara Campos. Published by the Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMN) working together with CMS, the book explores both the history of immigration policy in the U.S. and ways in which growing input from civil society is effecting discussion surrounding the issue.

Immigration is one of the four global emphases of the Jesuit order, which is divided globally into conferences. As a Jesuit institution, USF has a vested interest in social justice work concerning immigration. The Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Assistance Project is one example of involvement with immigrant communities from within USF. Law students initiated the project less than a year ago, and have been working with undocumented minors as they grapple with the various legal issues that face them.

Professors at USF also reflect the values of justice in immigration policy. Bill Ong Hing, a professor of law at USF, the director of the immigration clinic, and the third panelist, weighed in passionately. “On one September 11, 1998, there were three deaths on the border” he began. “We didn’t make a big deal out of that.”

“But what about a figure of 6,000 deaths at the border,” Hing continued, “which is actually  what has occurred since the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper (Clinton-era immigration legislation that more than doubled funds and mechanisms related to border security). Deaths that could have been avoided by you and me, because we voted for the folks that implemented those types of policies. It’s on us that everyday someone dies at that border.”

Hing’s message of responsibility was one echoed in the response from another student, Chris Monge. As a senior politics major, Monge is interested in the issue of immigration policy from a human rights perspective. “I feel bad for individuals who are removed from their homes and forcefully sent back to a ‘home’ country away from their family.”

All three panelists agreed that an overhaul of the immigration system was in order to restore a modicum of justice and dignity to the policies that play such an integral role in shaping the demographics and culture of our nation.

Campos argued that perhaps progress lay outside of the traditional lines of lobbying and policymaking and in the hands of more organic collective action. She emphasized the hope she sees in the future in regards to immigration in the US. “From where I sit…there’s a great deal of collaboration, a great deal of connectivity among organization working on many levels towards an image of reform.”

Vera seemed to support this vision, stating, “There are so many undocumented immigrants with such different backgrounds and the only way to attack the system is to unite across differences.”

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