Immigration Experts Speak at Teach-In
Issue   |   Wed, 12/07/2016 - 00:21
An attorney, law school students and an immigration lawyer spoke at a panel titled “Immigration Law Teach-In” on Friday, Dec. 2. The panel discussed the future of U.S. immigration laws after Donald Trump’s election.

A panel of experts in immigration law spoke at the Immigration Law Teach-In event on Friday, Dec. 2. Attorney Megan Kludt, Yale Law School students Liz Willis and Rachel Tuchman ’11 and immigration lawyer Billy Peard spoke to students, faculty and staff about the future of U.S. immigration laws after the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

Professor of American Studies and Sociology Leah Schmalzbauer opened the event by introducing the panelists.
Kludt began by saying that she had heard false information being spread about whom the government could deport from the country.

“Whether you are deportable from the United States or not is generally something that is decided by Congress, so people who have student status, that’s at the congressional level,” Kludt explained. “That would take time to change … If [you have student status], there’s a few more layers of protection between you and maybe an incoming, threatening presidency.”

Kludt also said that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program designed to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors from deportation, could potentially be in jeopardy because it had been an executive order.

“[DACA] was not passed by Congress and DACA is not a status,” she said. “Really, it doesn’t lead to a green card, it doesn’t lead to citizenship, despite what people have said about it.”

However, Kludt also added that supporters of DACA have a strong political voice, so Trump might fear the political repercussions of abolishing the program. Ultimately, Kludt acknowledged that the future for undocumented immigrants was uncertain.

Tuchman spoke next, reaffirming Kludt’s warnings about the fragility of the DACA program as well as her uncertainty about the future. She focused much of her portion of the talk on the efforts to fund and run legal assistance for immigrants, explaining that she, along with other Amherst alumni, had recently asked the college’s wealthy donors to consider donating the extra money they would receive from Trump’s proposed tax cuts to help immigration attorneys. She also strongly encouraged Amherst students to run for local government positions.

Willis addressed the topic of “sanctuary campuses,” universities or colleges that have committed to protect undocumented students. On Nov. 16, students had staged a walkout and a sanctuary campus protest, resulting in a response from President Biddy Martin about defending Amherst’s undocumented students.

“When we’re talking about [the] ‘sanctuary’ movement, you should be thinking about if we’re talking about non-cooperation or if we’re talking about resistance,” she said. She emphasized that students should look at the policies on other campuses and push for the most robust policies, as there is no set definition of a sanctuary campus. She also encouraged students to work with local officials and organizations to achieve their goals.

Peard, who spoke last, called the members of the audience “people of conscience” and went on to say that “certain people that are going to be coming into the incoming administration may lack that quality in their personal character, and that it’s up to the rest of us to live up to the utmost to that quality in ourselves.” Peard criticized Representative Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania for his anti-immigrant policies, and warned that if he becomes the secretary of labor, as Trump was considering, immigrants facing wage theft could suffer. Peard also encouraged students to oppose politicians who support racist policies on the basis that they are simply enforcing the law.

Peard said that he was inspired by the activism that he has seen on the issue of immigration policy so far. However, he also encourage students to go to less liberal places, too.

“Please, don’t stay in Western Massachusetts after graduation,” he said. “Don’t go to Cambridge. Don’t go to Berkeley. We need you in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We need you in Clarksdale, Mississippi. We need you in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. We need you along the border in Arizona. We need you in the impoverished communities of California. We need you in the Midwest, where Donald Trump pulled off his surprise victories. We need you in these places.”

After all four panelists spoke, they answered questions from the audience. During this time, they revealed that Trump could easily slow down immigration from predominantly Islamic countries by adding more steps for immigrants to complete. They encouraged students to be aware of the number of people who are detained, and for how long, and whether they have access to counsel. Tuchman called on faculty and staff to support students involved in activism. Responding to one of the final questions, Kludt encouraged students to not only help through the legal system, but also through supporting healthcare and charitable organizations.

Ana Ascenscio ’18, who had been involved in the organization of the college’s sanctuary campus protest, attended the talk. “I’d been looking forward to this event for a couple weeks,” she said. “It’s very clear that this was not just because of the recent movements. It was sort of everything before the election and leading after. There was just a definite need for a workshop like this.”

Aubrey Grube ’18E, who also attended the teach-in, said, “I’m feeling really grateful. I lately have been feeling a little at odds with the school environment, and feeling like this is not the best environment, not the best place to be. And I come here today, and I feel really grateful that the school and the faculty and the students here are able to organize a thing like this.”

“I think one of the important things that I actually took away from it was how the panelists talked about thinking about who the burden of this movement the students are trying to organize falls on, and noticing that most of the people in attendance were women of color,” Brant Dudziak ’20, another audience member, said. “[I’m] trying to think about how I then need to be a better ally and not have the weight of all that on them ... It should be the student body as a whole, all in this together to protect our community, and the people outside our community who we are all connected to.”