Understanding the Immigration Conversation

Recently I had the chance to speak to a class of students enrolled in the Homeland Security major at VCU. I’m always grateful for the chance to talk about what I do as an immigration lawyer, and it’s even more exciting when the people I’m speaking to probably have different opinions on the subject.

A lot of my work is focused on helping immigrants by fighting with the government agencies they interact with, including the Department of Homeland Security. Sharing my perspective with students who are preparing for law enforcement careers is an opportunity for me to help shape how these agencies treat my clients.

This is the second time I’ve been invited to do this by Professor James Keck, and I’d say the experience is a win-win.

This class of students definitely gets it. They understand the role of law enforcement, but they were also willing to see things from the perspective of immigrants.

They asked great questions.

I hope I gave good answers.

I always like to start the conversation by asking my audience about an immigration term they’ve heard, like, “What is a Sanctuary City?”

I’ll get the typical answers–a jurisdiction that provides benefits to immigrants, that doesn’t prosecute immigrants, that doesn’t cooperate with the federal government. After that, we’ll talk about the true legal definition of some of these terms.

These conversations are a chance to clarify terms that are used by politicians and the news media to frame the immigration debate according to the speaker’s agenda. And then we talk through those terms and help the students identify what’s real, what isn’t, and how they should parse through information they hear about the immigration policy.

It’s an exercise that, frankly, would be useful in the current political climate on immigration. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and some open, honest, and non-agenda driven conversation is the best way to help people understand what’s going on.

Not that I don’t have an agenda of my own–I am an immigrant advocate–but intellectual honesty helps all sides.

Inevitably, as the lecture turned into a Q&A for the last half of the class, we talked about different concerns the students expressed about real-world issues:

  • Are some immigrants dying in detention centers?
  • Why are they coming?
  • What about family separation?
  • What can we do about it?

These are all important questions, and I’m glad these kinds of questions are coming from future law enforcement. These kinds of questions say a lot about the quality of students and people at VCU.

These lectures help me share my experience in the immigration world. The vast majority of immigrants I interact with who have recently crossed the U.S./Mexico border are fleeing persecution.

There is a humanitarian crisis.

It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the real security concerns about our porous southern border, but it’s also problematic to ignore the vast humanitarian toll our immigration policies are causing not only to people outside our borders, but within them as well.

I’m grateful for the chance to talk about these issues with VCU students in their Homeland Security Major, and look for opportunities to continue this conversation in other venues. If you’d like me to come talk to your class or organization, please reach out.