By Emilia Otte, Copy Editor
Bi-Co students, faculty, and community members packed into Stokes Auditorium on Monday, Feb. 6, for a panel discussion on what has been called the “Muslim Ban” executive order passed by the Trump administration, and its impact on immigration policy on a national and local level.
The panel was led by three experts in immigration law and policy: Matthew Hamill, Senior Vice President of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) in Washington, DC, William Stock, an attorney at Klasko Immigration Law Partners and President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Attorney Sondra Miller-Wein, founder of Immigration Law Options, LLC.
The panelists began by talking about the circumstances surrounding the executive order. Hamill gave a brief analysis of the political forces at work in Washington. He described the current administration as one suffering from “incredible growing pains” — fairly standard for a new administration. The shock, he noted almost wryly, was the “novel experience” of having a candidate who stepped into office and made good on his campaign promises.
Hamill believes that the executive order may have served the additional function of taking the attention off the topic of health care while the Republicans work to put together a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. He does not believe that the order is a prelude to further legislation on immigration — in fact, he believes that, if anything, the order will blockade such legislation.
Stock discussed the executive order from a legal perspective, answering questions of whether the president has the power to authorize such measures, which he does, and whether the bill is constitutional. On the second point, Stock explained that there are two schools of thought. On the one hand, the president has “plenary power” over immigration, meaning that constitutionality is irrelevant. However, under something called the establishment clause, the Federal government is prohibited from recognizing one religion as superior to another.
While the executive order, which bars immigration from seven countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen — for 90 days and places a temporary hold on the refugee resettlement program, makes some fear that an unpleasant history may be repeating itself, Stock attempted to assuage those concerns. In his opinion, he says, this is not an echo of Germany in 1932, but of the US in 1922 — a time during which the KKK had 4,000 members, immigration quotas were being established, and immigrants from many “Asiatic countries” were denied access.
The discussion turned to practical concerns, such as the effect the ban may have on students with visas, the issue of “sanctuary campuses” and how students should practice activism. According to Stock, the order does not affect any students from the seven countries who are already in the United States, because due process is still required in order to remove someone from the country. However, he said, in general, everyone should “weigh the importance of any travel … against the risks you are taking.” And for anyone with a student visa, all bets are off when it comes to cannabis. “If you have weed, your Visa’s gone. That’s it.”
The topic of sanctuary campuses, a designation for college campuses that adopt policies and practices that protect undocumented immigrants — campuses that include both the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College — also came up. A campus, while a private institution, is still bound by the law. The only action a campus could take in the case of an arrest would be to insist on a warrant. According to the panelists, because it is “bad press” to arrest on a college campus, this may be enough to deter officers from taking the student into custody.
For those who wish to speak out concerning the recent political activities, Hamill says, “you have a lot of choices.” Not all methods of communicating, however, should be considered equal.
“The constant challenge is to think emotionally and act rationally,” Hamill said, then added, “Sometimes the most effective arguments are dispassionate.”
Stock also urged people to rise above partisanship, saying, “This is not a Republican-versus-Democrat issue.”
Student activists, he said, should think about whether their activism reaches people of different political backgrounds. Miller-Wien referred to this idea of bringing together people with differing viewpoints on a common point of discussion as “figuring out the Venn Diagram.” This technique can be effective both in professional settings as well as in one’s personal life.
“I married a Republican,” said Miller-Wien, giving an example of her own use of the Venn Diagram. “Now I read The Wall Street Journal and he reads New York Times.”