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Faculty panel addresses immigration and refugee crisis, policies

After president Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries on Jan. 27, many in the Beloit College community and beyond responded with concern. Six faculty and staff members provided context for this action in a panel and Q & A organized by the Office of International Education and Weissberg Program in Human Rights.

Director of the Office of International Education Brewer welcomed the audience, saying the discussion was already planned as a lead-up to the Weissberg Chair’s focus on immigration and refugees, and is also a response to Donald Trump’s executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”. Brewer gave a brief summary of the order, which called for little to no entry for passport holders from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia and Lybia for 90 days following the signature of the order, and permanently banning entry from Syria. State and federal agents are responsible for enforcing the ban.

Brewer called the order “deeply troubling”, noting that “extreme vetting is already a reality”. The threat of a terrorist attack from a refugee is “extremely low,” she said, citing a study by the American libertarian think tank Cato Institute that estimated one in 3.6 billion refugees are terrorists.

A week before the panel, on Friday, Jan. 27, Brewer sent out a statement on stuboard addressing the immigration policy. At the time of the stuboard, 16 faculty and staff members had signed it. After Biology professor Yaffa Grossman sent out a separate document saying anyone with a Beloit email address would be able to read and sign the letter, over 100 students, faculty and staff had signed.

The statement read: “President Trump’s actions and pronouncements on immigration are deeply disturbing to many of us on campus. They are diametrically opposed to Beloit College’s long history of encouraging the exchange of ideas and people with other countries.

Our college is stronger for the diversity of its members, including those who have come to the college from other countries, and those who are Muslim. Building walls will not make the U.S. stronger and safer, nor will xenophobic, racist, and anti-Muslim attitudes and actions.”

Brewer discussed implications for international students. “The US is not going to stop issuing visas to present international students,” she said, as there “would be a huge outcry.” The college will continue to welcome international students and faculty, she said. President Scott Bierman sent out a response to the executive order on Jan. 31, supporting Brewer’s call for “upholding a commitment to the exchange of ideas and people with other countries and condemning xenophobia, racism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions.”

This executive action prolongs visa processing times, especially from predominantly Muslim countries. Brewer speculated work authorizations may become stricter, though official information is not available yet. The college is required to report information about students holding F and J visas to the Department of Homeland Security, but a subpoena is needed for the College to give out any additional information.

According to Brewer, the College has no faculty or staff from any of the seven countries, but she still called for a “responsibility to respect members of the Beloit College community”, as the College may eventually accept members from those countries.

“All study abroad students become citizen diplomats,” she said, calling study abroad an opportunity to learn about the relationship between the U.S. and host country. The OIE has updated a webpage with resources related to national identity abroad, and addresses this topic in orientation.

Inclusive Success Coordinator for the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness Paul Dionne then explained the implications for undocumented students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA). DACA was created in 2012 to allow undocumented immigrants to register to study and work in the U.S. To be eligible, you must have arrived to the U.S. as a child, have over five years of residency, not have any felony or serious misdemeanor charges, and pass a background check.

Out of the College’s undocumented students, most are registered with DACA, he said. Out of the estimated eleven million undocumented people in the U.S. — a figure that has been declining over the past decade — about 20 percent are youth and young adults, and about three-quarters of a million people are registered under DACA.

Out of the College’s undocumented students, most are registered with DACA, he said. Out of the estimated eleven million undocumented people in the U.S. – a figure that has been declining over the past decade — about 20 percent are youth and young adults. About three-quarters of a million people are registered for DACA. Those with DACA status are given a social security number for work, but cannot receive any financial aid or other federal benefits. It is not an amnesty program, and does not provide a pathway to citizenship. The government has prosecutorial discretion, meaning the government decides who to focus on, not being able to convict everyone who commits a crime. Former president Obama focused on undocumented felons, Dionne said.

Trump’s press secretary stated canceling DACA was not a priority for the new administration, but was not reassuring that the program would continue. The decision would be left at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security, the president or others in the administration, Dionne said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Dionne said. For undocumented students and those from mixed status families, these are “not new problems”, as it is already difficult for many to earn money, travel, drive, pay for tuition, casting “anxiety about futures”. Those already affected “face even greater obstacles to academic status and wellbeing. These are people who are part of our community,” he said.

“Let’s call for a just and constitutional policy for all persons affected by these laws.”

– Beatrice McKenzie

History professor and chair of the History department Beatrice McKenzie outlined the dynamic between the branches of government, noting “The president, congress and courts frequently question each other on immigration.” At least six judges have issued rulings against parts of the ban, and many states have joined together in major lawsuits, she said.

One case involves the states of Washington and Minnesota, along with some large corporations concerned about the economic impact, seeking a restraining order to block enforcement of the travel ban. Nearby Macalester College and the University of Minnesota have condemned the ban, saying it negatively affects students. The plaintiffs claim the executive order violates the fifth amendment, which entitles a person to the due process of law, and the fourteenth amendment, which addresses citizenship rights and 1965 Immigration and Nationality Law.

In another case, a Virginia judge issued a temporary restraining order to access the names of all green card holders detained at the airport. Following the signing of the order, no petitioner could be removed from the airport for 7 days.

A New York federal judge blocked the ban more broadly, citing the right to due process under the 14th Amendment to call for temporary relief for visa holders already in airport.

When a federal judge refuses to follow executive orders, the administration can retaliate by charging them with contempt of court, or charging large fees. Because judges have life tenure, they are not working for the president, and are only responsible for doing what is constitutional, McKenzie explained. “Let’s call for a just and constitutional policy for all persons affected by these laws,” she concluded.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science John McMahon offered another way to think about the issue in terms of the politics of emotions, a realm of political science he researches. Wanting to be transparent, he started by acknowledging he draws most of his sources from Franz Fanon, Sarah Ahmed and Audre Lorde.

He asked the audience to consider a number of questions. “What does fear do? Think on an individual level. Your body might tense up or try to assert greater boundary or border to protect yourself. Fear might produce or assert a new kind of boundary,” he said.

Then he prompted the audience to consider, “What do we deem fearful?” on a broader, national level. A brief history of the politics of fear in the U.S. might include the fear of slave revolts, which led to physical and metaphysical violence; fear of Mexican immigrants in early 20th century, driven by the image of drug lords and criminals; fear of all kinds of immigrants, in late 19th centuries, prompting different exclusionary acts, and fear of people assumed to be Muslim after 9/11 and terrorists.

“All [of these examples] construct some kind of outsider as source or cause of fear, and the fearful other tends to be non-white,” he said, making the connection that “We can take ways that individuals respond to certain emotions to how broader collectivities respond to emotions in particular ways.” He argued the Trump administration, then, channels xenophobic anxieties into resentment and exclusions,through institutionalizing racism, tweeting, and an overall politics of fear.

He went on to explain, “What does a politics of fear do? Bind together those who are supposed to be afraid and brings together and mobilize people who are ascribed to be scary.”

He ended with “harder questions,” such as “What are the human costs of this fear going to be? What violences might be enacted by this politics of fear? What are ways we might think about resisting this politics of fear?”

Political Science professor Beth Dougherty wanted to clear up some confusion surrounding the new policies, saying many Trump supporters and administrative officials do not give factually correct answers. To engage with falsities, she urges the audience to ask a Trump support a series of questions. First, she said, ask them what is a refugee?

“Most people think it’s someone who flees across international border, from generalized violence,” she said, when in fact “refugee is a legal category,” defined in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees as “a person who must demonstrate well-founded fear of persecution, race, religion, nationality, political, social group”.

Then, ask them, “what do you think extreme vetting looks like? What do you think that process is? Most people have literally no idea how you become a resettled refugee in the U.S.,” Dougherty continued. “First of all, the U.S. resettles more refugees than any country in the world, but on a per capita basis, that’s fewer people than Canada, UK, France, Germany, and no comparison to the number of refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Syria,” she said.

According to Dougherty, of the 65 million refugees in the world, only .01% are eligible for resettlement. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees interviews candidates, compiling a background dossier with biometric and other information such as IRS scans, to determine who is most vulnerable to place them into resettlement. The most vulnerable populations tend to be victims of torture and/or sexual violence, families with multiple children, or female-headed households.

The UN then determines which country the refugee should settle to, needing extensive documentation to complete the process. The Department of Homeland Security sends an American official to the individual for an extensive interview. Any inconsistency in answers disqualifies the person, and Dougherty notes a person with trauma often has difficulty in telling a coherent narrative, and many trip up on small details. If the person is still eligible, nine separate federal agencies process and scrutinize criminal and terrorist databases, and require a health screening.

The average time to complete resettlement is 18-24 months, while it can take years to approve Syrians and Iraqis.

“We are not being overrun by refugees,” she said. Trump’s order caps refugees at 50,000 for the fiscal year of 2017, much lower than the 110,000 Obama’s administration claimed they would let in the same year.

Another question to ask is “what kind of security threat do refugees pose?” Of the 3 million refugees admitted since 1970, only 3 Americans were killed by Cuban refugees in the 1970s, according to Dougherty, meaning “if this is a security measure, we banned the wrong group of people,” she said. While the order cites the 9/11 attack as a key example of the threat, not one American has been killed by a refugee who comes from one of those seven banned countries. The 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia on tourist visas, not as refugees.

Supporters claim the Obama administration contributed to similar vetting of refugees, but Dougherty notes that while policy in 2011 slowed down the vetting process for Iraqi refugees, this never banned them from being resettled. A 2015 law said any person who visited one of those countries deemed to be a risk had to apply for a visa, which is “not a travel ban no matter how you look at it,” she said.

“The real issue is the info they are relying on to make the assessment that this is a good idea is not factually correct. We need to keep challenging them to understand that what they fear and who they think is causing that fear is simply not true,” she concluded.

Later that night, Dougherty sent out a stuboard outlining information she had shared at the panel, hoping it would be useful for students.

Beloit College Chief of Staff and Secretary Dan Schoof, who previously worked for the state of Wisconsin and represented Beloit in the legislature, urged the audience to take this information and contact congressional representatives as a civic duty. While he acknowledged this work might be “unsatisfying,” he said it is “important even if you believe we live in a world where districts are gerrymandered.” Flyers with instructions were given out to audience members. Callers should identify themselves and their district first; constituents are given priority for that representative, but all calls may be considered.

After opening for questions, History professor Ellen Joyce announced that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who lives in nearby Janesville, Wis., has not opposed the ban, urging audience members to join the protest at his house the next day.

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