ALBANY — Immigration law experts from across the nation gathered at Albany Law School Friday afternoon to discuss the connection — or lack thereof — between immigration rights, civil rights and human rights. The panel was part of a two-day conference, “Race Hate: The New Normal?”
“Scholars and teachers who work on racial justice and civil rights issues don’t always think of immigration rights issues as a part of their field of concern, and vice versa — immigration law has proceeded in very race neutral terms,” said Anil Kalhan of Drexel University. “This is a moment for a fair amount of self reflection as to why that is the case, what has been lost in having these siloed conversations.”
The panelists focused heavily on the national immigration discourse during the Trump administration, and noted that while the federal government has enacted stricter immigration policy, it has been met with strong mobilization and resistance that has led to more awareness about immigration rights and issues.
However, Kalhan warned against the dangers of the “shiny objects” that can be found in the administration’s “anti-immigrant crackdown.”
“Sanctuary cities, a Muslim ban, the wall, what happened to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” he said. “Beneath the surface there are so many highly technical, less visible things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and are incredibly consequential, but hard to mobilize around beyond the community of special immigrant lawyers.”
One example of a beneath-the-surface immigration issue, said Peter Marguilies of Roger Williams University Law School, is local policing.
“The nature of policing in this country is a (racial) phenomenon,” he said. “All cities and all states participate in federal immigration enforcement.”
Marguilies went on to explain that every arrest or stop made by state and local police runs an individual’s information against the federal NCIC database, which is regularly checked by federal officials — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who then use the information for their own work.
Another issue the panel discussed is barriers to naturalization — and sometimes even de-naturalization — faced by Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities. Sahar Aziz of Rutgers University Law School talked about the connection between naturalization and national security issues.
“It’s all connected to who the enemies of the state are,” she said, specifically citing Palestinians, the Muslim Brother and Iranians. “Anyone who has some connection to an identity the U.S. has decided is an enemy is collectively punished.”
Which somewhat answers an umbrella question Margaret Hu of Washington and Lee University School of Law posed to the panel: Who deserves to be an American?
“There are immigrants who are trying to naturalize or have the dream of becoming Americans,” she said. “What do we allow as a country? When can you claim the mantel of being able to carry forward the American dream when those who control the rhetoric deny access to being able to claim that part of the dream?