Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Blog

At a Friday morning panel at the National Leadership Conference, a group of distinguished presenters discussed challenges related to civil liberties, national security, immigration reform, and the intersection between these issues. Among the presenters was Ryan Bates, the Director of Alliance for Immigrant Rights in Michigan; Juan Escarano, the Director of Organizing for MOSES; and Pabitra Benjamin, the Field Director at Rights Working Group.

Ryan Bates detailed the level of assault on the rights and basic dignity of immigrant communities that he and his organization have encountered in Michigan. He described his work documenting Border patrol officers at service centers and schools with immigrant populations. Hope of Detroit Academy was one such school targeted in these efforts, according to Bates. He argued that this pattern of abuses by border patrol and immigration officials necessitates a political solution. These large and powerful agencies need to be met with an equally strong push to hold them accountable for their actions, Bates asserted.

Juan Escarano described some of the successes his organization has been able to achieve in promoting understanding between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. Escarano described the “surburban mindset” as one of the biggest challenges faced by MOSES, as this introverted mentality is tough to deal with on an organizational level. Despite these challenges, MOSES was able to organize dialogues between immigrant and non-immigrant communities to address myths and perceptions of each other. Escarano praised the courage of immigrants who took leading roles in organizing these dialogues. According to Escarano, immigrants taking responsibility for changing their situation is the “best example of what democracy really is.”

Pabitra Benjamin described the ways in which stereotypes are real factors in determining policies. She compared the way which immigrants are treated in this country to the slave controls under which free blacks once had to show permission that they were allowed to roam free. Similarly, vagrancy laws target immigrants who are seen as loitering if they don’t have a job, Pabitra argued. Pabitra also discussed the problem of immigration enforcement being unfairly conflated with drug enforcement, resulting in 400,000 immigrants in jail. Pabitra concluded by urging political action on immigration reform, remarking that neither party has offered good solutions on the issue.

Finally Raja Khoury discussed the differences between American and Canadian immigration policies. He argued that post-9/11 Canada has taken steps backward in immigration policy, when they had previously enjoyed better and more progressive policies than the United States. He stressed than given the similar trajectories of the two countries’ immigration policies, it is necessary for Arab Americans and Canadians of Arab decent to coordinate their efforts to affect change. Thus, AAI and NNAAC’s National Leadership Conference began with a substantive discussion of a variety of issues related to immigration, civil liberties, and national security. 

comments powered by Disqus