Panel Tackles Ethics of Immigration Enforcement in Refugee Crisis
By Lauren Loftus
As part of Inauguration Week festivities, the Markkula Center hosted a panel discussion on the context of asylum seekers and family separations that continue to occur at U.S. borders.
When formerly undocumented activist Julissa Arce’s mother and father emigrated from Mexico when she was 11, they had a sixth grade and high school education, respectively. “They would certainly not qualify to come here today under a merit based system,” she told attendees at the “Separating Children & Families of Refugees” panel at the de Saisset Museum on Monday.
But despite their resumes, her parents raised four accomplished children, including three college graduates. “I think that says a lot about immigrants’ drive … In the process of trying to make their life better, immigrants can make America better.”
Arce, who previously worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch while undocumented before becoming an author and speaker on immigrant rights, was challenging an audience question asking about ethical ways to contend with the notion that the United States cannot accomodate every person seeking refuge here.
Rather than invest more in a merit-based immigration system and cut down on asylum-seeking refugees, as the Trump Administration has advocated, Arce suggested applying some ethical decision making to the issue.
“Which action will produce the most good and do the least harm? Which action will benefit the community as a whole and not just a select few?” she asked, referencing “A Framework for Ethical Decision Making” from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Markkula’s Irina Raicu J.D. ’09 served as moderator of the panel, which kicked off the week-long inauguration festivities of SCU’s 29th President Kevin O’Brien, S.J.
Fellow panelist and Santa Clara Law Professor Deep Gulasekaram echoed Arce, saying the country’s current system that relies heavily on enforcement is not working to deter immigrant families from coming.
“People from Central America and parts of Mexico, for example, migrate knowing full well that they’re going to spend weeks on a train, that they might die, that they might be sexually assaulted, that once they reach the border, they might be incarcerated for months at a time. And yet people still do it,” he said. “So the real question is not whether we can accomodate the people coming but how we choose to deal with the number of people coming.”
While the number of migrants who remain detained on U.S. soil changes daily, panelists estimated between 45 to 55,000 sleep in detention centers every night. Of those, at least 900 are children who have been separated from their parents and guardians despite the reversal of the controversial Zero Tolerance Policy that separated thousands of families at the border in 2018. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump recently announced he’s cutting the U.S. refugee program by nearly half for fiscal year 2020, capping the number of refugees allowed asylum here at 18,000. Compare that to the current limit of 30,000 and the 110,000 allowed in 2016.
Though the immigration system is too complex to fix without massive institutional change and resources, there are things individuals can do to help, said panelist Mimi Nguyen, an attorney with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. As “normal, regular civilians,” Nguyen said the simplest item on the Good Samaritan checklist is to contact your Congress member. “Right now, most of our Congress members [in Northern California] have spoken out against anti-immigrant rhetoric but it is very important to continue talking about the asylum issues that are ongoing.”
A big ask, Nguyen said, is for those in California or Santa Clara County with extra space in their homes to consider temporarily housing a youth or a family awaiting legal processing. Those without room, though, may consider donating toiletries or clothes—especially shoes—to organizations that disseminate those necessities to refugees in detention centers and beyond.
At Santa Clara, Campus Ministry is accepting donations for a clothing drive as part of inauguration week. Clothing will be delivered to migrants on the Mexico side of the border in Juarez.
Oct 8, 2019
Thousands of migrants seeking refugee asylum in the United States continue to be held in detention centers such as this one on the border of Mexico. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.