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Emerson Hosts Panel about Immigration Laws, Realities

Emerson College organized a panel discussion aimed at shedding light on immigration laws and the complexities of the issue on the eve of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, whose proposals on immigration have alarmed many immigrants and advocates.

“Immigration and Human Rights,” which was co-sponsored by the Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies with the Ad Hoc Committee on Cultural Competency, was held at the Brody Theater on Thursday, January 19. It was the second in a two-part discussion series, “Making Sense of the Election,” which featured a panel on democracy and engagement on January 18.

Since the discussion focused on teaching students about immigration laws and helping them understand the changes proposed by Trump, the discussion began with a brief introduction to commonly used terminology in this field, such as the Green Card, visa, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security), among others.

Addressing Trump’s proposed immigration plan, immigration attorney and Emerson affiliated faculty member Sarah Schendel said, “Part of the reason advocacy groups and activists are talking about immigration policies right now is because we don’t want to create chaos and panic among people, in case some of Trump’s policies are implemented.”

Focusing on the humanitarian crises that emerge from punitive immigration laws, Sarang Sekhavat, federal policy director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, shared several examples outlining this critical issue.

“Immigration laws are tearing apart families,” Sekhavat said. “For example, when a couple who has been together for decades and one of them who is undocumented gets deported, or in some cases when both the parents are deported to their home country, and kids are placed in foster care. Students with the undocumented status are not getting the financial support they need to finish their education. There is a huge emotional cost involved in this process and it also impacts our economy.”

Laura Londoño ‘18, president of Emerson UNITE (Understanding National Immigration Through Education), talked about how the immigration laws act as roadblocks to students’ pursuit of higher education.

She added that educational institutions around the country should make an attempt to open doors and offer financial aid to students with an undocumented status.

While there was a wide variety of concerns and queries discussed during the question hour, one of the repeated themes revolved around talking to people who are not aware about the realities of the immigration laws.

“One way can be to tell stories about people you have met, immigrants whose stories you found really moving and persuasive can help in debunking theories about immigrants,” added Schendel.

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