Center for Human Rights and Civil Liberties hosts immigration panel

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The Center for Human Right and Civil Liberties at Southern Miss hosted a panel Oct. 2 to discuss immigration policies and their effect on the lives of both immigrants and U.S. citizens.

“How do you introduce a subject as polarizing as immigration in 2018 and still be balanced? Watch us,” David LeVia, panel moderator, said to introduce the topic.

Lilie Bush, junior public relations major and intern for The Center for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, helped organize the panel.

“The panel is important because immigration is such a controversial topic,” Bush said. “I believe everyone, including myself, has opinions on immigration without fully knowing what is going on or what we are talking about. The panel provided a non-biased environment for individuals, especially students, to ask questions and learn more about whichever perspective they advocate.”

“The official position of the Mexican federal government is that in term of immigration, we do have a shared responsibility in this phenomenon. I think it’s very important for us to recognize our responsibility and a need to work together,” Lorena Salazar, Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans, said.

The Consulate of Mexico works to make sure that immigration and deportation cases are handled in a humane, respectful and legal way.

“I can see the human face of what immigration really is,” Salazar said.

Salazar’s office helps immigrants with daily decisions they might need to make, like finding hospitals and enrolling their children in school. She also works closely with ICE and DHS officers to ensure that immigrants are being treated fairly.

“I think one thing that is often left out of this discussion is that immigrants have families. When you’re talking about arrest, detention and deportation, you’re not just holding one immigrant hostage, you’re usually holding an entire family [hostage],” Patricia Ice, Director of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Association, said.

Different government agencies handle different aspects of immigration policies.

“Most of what [the panelists] have talked about on dealing with immigration and immigrants is something that ICE itself doesn’t do. The Department of Homeland Security started after 9/11, and it’s the newest department in the federal government. ICE is one of three government agencies that deal with immigration,” Charles Wall, Deputy Chief Counsel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said.

ICE handles both homeland security investigations and enforcement and removal operations, according to Wall.

While the original mission of ICE was to prevent acts of terrorism, they have drifted away from their original mission because their operations are influenced by the administration, according to Melinda Medina, Community Organizer at Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance.

“[Trump’s] fear-mongering narrative created a hateful and unwelcoming environment for all immigrants,” Medina said.

Panelists were asked if they believed that immigrants should not be deported if they committed a serious crime, which is a pressing topic when discussing sanctuary cities.

Medina and Ice both believe that immigrants should be deported if they committed a serious offense; however, there’s some confusion on what a detainable offense is.

“It is not a crime to cross the border without authorization unless you’ve crossed several times,”

Ice said. Ice also believes that “[Parents] should not be separated from their children and they should not be locked up with their children.”

Ice had previously visited an immigration detention center in Texas and had firsthand witnessed mothers being locked up with their children.

While detainment and family separation has been a hot topic of 2018 immigration policy, by far the most talked about issue surrounding immigration has been the border wall that President Donald Trump proposed during his election campaign.

“We do not believe that the wall will have a permanent effect in terms of immigration and drug trafficking. We also have a trafficking problem in Mexico—arms trafficking. Lots of the murders committed in Mexico are carried out with American arms. A wall would not solve this issue.” Medina said.

Medina said that the Mexican and American governments need to work together to solve these problems, as well as promote economic growth.

One issue that undocumented immigrants face is having to worry about being detained when they commit minor offenses. Local law enforcement officers can detain immigrants and then transfer them to immigration centers.

“It is not the job of local law enforcement to be doing the work of immigration services,” Medina said.

It’s also important to note that concerns about immigration is not something that is new. Ice said there were at least two million immigrants deported under Barack Obama’s administration.

However, Medina said that immigration laws need to be changed.

“Immigration laws have been designed with racist intent. We are criminalizing immigrants from black and brown countries without benefit of due process,” Medina said.

As a representative of ICE, Wall said that it is a good idea to question who should be detained and why.  Immigration law is not based on morality, according to Wall. If people want to change immigration law, they have that power.

“You need to vote and change the law,” Wall said.

Southern Miss students have the power to enact change, as well.

“You have a very special and significant power within the environment and community that you’re in. Stand firm for what you believe in, fight for change and be that encouragement for others. You cannot expect change if you do not do anything to make it happen,” Reginald Virgil, translator at Gulf Coast Latinx Services, said.