By Haley Robinson, Intern for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
At the tenth annual Wiley A. Branton/Howard Law Journal Symposium on Thursday – an event titled Civil Rights at a Critical Juncture: Confronting Old Conflicts and New Challenges – panelists discussed the multidimensional issues that make immigration reform the complicated yet urgent cause being fought for today, including guest worker programs, law enforcement, legal status of immigrants, and the repeated historical struggle of minorities and citizenship.
Alejandro T. Reyes, counsel for the Immigrant Rights Initiative and Legal Mobilization Project at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, challenged the audience by asking, “Who here wakes up in the morning angry about this issue? The goal of this discussion is to make you wake up angry.” The other three panelists shared the same energy, focusing on injustices that immigrants face daily that continue to be legally sustained.
Reyes discussed the position of immigrant workers with H-2B visas, the non-farming guest workers, who do not receive any protections such as a contract to ensure compensable work time (the right to housing, food, and legal services assistance). With these protections lacking, foreign workers – who are often afraid to speak out due to the constant threat of deportation –can be exploited and left without an option to improve their situation.
César Cuahtémoc García Hernández, an assistant professor at Capital University Law School, said that the economy is central to the immigration discussion. He spoke about the $18 billion that is spent on border security every year, and highlighted how military personnel, predator drones and a steel and concrete wall are part of this budget. He also noted that 33,000 people are in detention centers in America today, which costs around $2 billion per year. In 2010, 30 percent of inmates were incarcerated because of immigration-related crimes. He also cautioned against the continued rhetoric making immigrants and criminals synonymous.
Elizabeth Keyes, an assistant professor at University of Baltimore School of Law, discussed how immigration laws often treat foreign workers as second-class persons. Historically, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos have all faced obstacles to full citizenship rights“Let justice be done, but let what is being done, be just,” Keyes concluded.
As shown in this slideshow, civil rights leaders often identify with current immigration issues.