Immigrant rights advocates gathered at the Lewis Katz law building Thursday night for a “teach-in” organized by the Penn State Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic.
The event, coordinated by Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, offered more than 100 audience members an overview of potential issues the immigrant community could face as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.
“Throughout the campaign and post-election rhetoric and conversation, we’ve heard proposals ranging from deporting two or three million people living in the U.S., to registering Muslims, to revoking programs like DACA or deferred action for childhood arrivals,” Wadhia said. “Families and immigrant communities are afraid. Community leaders and trainers want tools and information on how best to move forward.”
DACA is a policy signed by President Barak Obama in 2012, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16 to receive protection from deportation. Under DACA, the immigrants can become eligible for a work permit.
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Wadhia said the “statewide” event was conceived after a meeting at the clinic among immigrant rights activists, which highlighted the fears of exposed immigrant communities after the election in November. She spoke with colleagues at neighboring law schools and the excitement and energy around the idea of a teach-in propelled her to organize and schedule the event.
The event was live-streamed to Penn Law at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Throughout the evening, Wadhia was joined on stage by law colleagues, local government officials and immigrant advocates for a fast-paced discussion that covered immigration basics, at-risk communities, how local government is responding and an overview of resources for immigrants.
Language and terminology was one of the focal points of the discussion. Victor Romero, associate dean of Penn State Law offered an overview of constitutional protection for immigrants and undocumented people living in the country. He explained that the wording in the constitution protects immigrants, and everyone within in the U.S. has the right to due process, regardless of their citizenship.
There are 11.2 million undocumented people living in the U.S., according to Wadhia, and within the immigration statutes the word “illegal” is not found.
“Some, including myself, consider that to be pejorative,” Wadhia said. “It not only criminalizes the act, but in some way, it dehumanizes the entire person.”
Another term discussed during the evening was “sanctuary.” In local and national conversation, the term has been widely-circulated, but the term has no legal meaning or standing, according to Wadhia.
Linda Rabben, associate research professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland and author of “Sanctuary and Asylum” said universities are often directed by their lawyers not to use the term. She referenced a letter signed in December by Penn State President Eric Barron, and more than 400 other university presidents in support of DACA, and she noted that nowhere in the letter was “sanctuary” mentioned.
“But just because it isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to seek it,” Rabben said.
On the local level, the State College Borough passed a resolution, which stated the borough opposed any immigration policies on the local, state and federal level that seek to register or track individuals based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, nationality or citizenship as a law enforcement tool. Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and councilmen Evan Myers and Jesse Barlow each spoke about the importance of protecting immigrants who feel threatened or fearful of the potential incoming administration policies.
“It’s our duty, it’s our conscience, it’s our responsibility to stand with all those who face that fear and intimidation, no matter the reason, and that’s why we took a stand,” Barlow said. “Immigrant rights are human rights.”
The evening was wrapped up with online immigrant resources for people to consult. Wadhia’s post-election immigration package is a comprehensive resource for public reference and use.