The School of Medicine and the Urban Health Institute continued their joint five-topic event series, JustUs Dialogues, with a panel discussion titled “Immigration Matters: Building Humanity Within a Fractured Immigration Landscape” on Thursday, Sept. 10.
The virtual event was moderated by Tony Bridges, assistant director of the Student Outreach Resource Center (SOURCE), the community engagement and service-learning center for the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health.
The panel featured three speakers: immigration attorney Erika N. Salter, Founding Co-Director of the Center for Salud/Health and Opportunity for Latinos Dr. Kathleen Page, and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition’s Litigation Director Claudia Cubas.
From Ellis Island to modern day, Page and the other panelists began the conversation with the history of immigration in the U.S. and how immigrants have been perceived.
“There was a welcoming of immigrants to build the country, however, you had to be white and free. So even back then, there was a racialization of who could be a U.S. citizen,” Page said.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was one of the first exclusionary policies created which barred a certain ethnic group or race from becoming citizens, or even entering the U.S.
Panelists also discussed the current administration under President Donald Trump and how immigrants are being handled, especially immigrants of color, Salter noted.
“Our current administration considers countries like El Salvador, Haiti and Africa as shit-hole countries. In the next sentence, our current administration will say, ‘Hmm, we should bring in more immigrants from Norway.’ It clearly goes back to what [Page] was saying — it is about race,” Salter said.
Salter also spoke about previous administrations and what has been done to help the American immigration system. President Barack Obama’s administration announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012 and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans in 2014. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were created to promote national security.
Salter asserted that the Trump administration has failed to similarly bolster the immigration system.
“I would say that our administration has done a poor job compared to the other administrations, and it’s gonna take some work to bring about some change,” she said.
Cubas added that voting in a new administration is not enough to improve the country’s immigration system.
“They can’t just change policies or regulations, because those things can be quickly pulled right underneath us,” she said.
In June 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA, temporarily protecting 700,000 immigrants from deportation, Cubas said.
“We need more permanent solutions… That’s where congressmen and women and our potential new president needs to roll up their sleeves, and come to an agreement and make some changes to our immigration laws,” she said.
Page addressed the effect of immigration policies and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on public health.
“These policies impacted public health even before COVID, and I tell you that COVID has a disparity that is directly linked to these policies,” she said. “By April, I was getting calls from the ICU at Hopkins, with unprecedented numbers of undocumented immigrants in our system. The positivity rate among undocumented Latino immigrants in our system was over 40 percent.”
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for unemployment benefits and government assistance. Amid the pandemic, they often work as essential workers and expose themselves to the risks of COVID-19 in order to support their families.
In addition, Page highlighted the work of local non-profit organizations that provide immigrant services. She mentioned the University’s Esperanza Center, Somos Baltimore Latino, and religious leaders such as Father Bruce Lewandowski and Bishop Angel Nuñez, who have been influential in Baltimore’s immigrant community.
“You have to engage community leaders, community partners, people who are trusted here in Baltimore,” Page said.
Cubas added how individuals can help with immigration issues in their communities.
“There’s local nonprofits. Those are the first responders to the jails that are holding immigrants. Those are the first responders to helping immigrant families connect with eviction assistance,” she said. “Go to your local organizations providing services to immigrants.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Bridges wrote that he was glad topics such as immigration were being discussed on campus.
“Social justice issues are at the forefront of America as a result of many current examples (immigration, police brutality, etc.) of people being treated unfairly and unjustly. People want change and want to find a way to make a difference so it’s important to hold these dialogues,” he wrote. “It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s needed so that people understand how they can contribute to challenging unjust policies that oppress people.”
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