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Day of Dialogue: A call for immigration policy reform

The Center for Civic Engagement hosted a panel of renowned professionals and engaged students to break down the complex and multi-faceted issue of immigration and question the ethics behind recent United States policies as part of Hofstra’s annual Day of Dialogue, on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

“Do we have the capacity to weigh in, seriously, all the immigration debates and to develop complex solutions that would address multiple conflicting values?” asked Rosanna Perotti, professor of political science, to an audience filled with students, faculty and staff. 

“The immigration challenges that face the United States are very complex and will require us to weigh in values that are widely shared and sometimes conflicting,” Perotti added. 

Amy Baehr, professor of philosophy at Hofstra; Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, senior minister at First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights; Paula Chirinos, a junior public relations major; and Kimberly Chin, deputy director of The Children’s Defense Fund of New York shared insight on the values and steps they believe should be taken by Congress in order to construct stronger immigration policies.

Baehr addressed nine pluralist approaches that could benefit immigration reforms and noted that these are society’s most basic moral ideals. “The values that I discuss are these: human rights, desert, safety, just solutions, economic prosperity, procedural fairness, humanitarianism, global distributive justice and the rectification of our past wrongs,” Baehr said. 

On April 6, the current administration declared an end to a practice often know as “catch and release.” On the same day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered all Southern border security to “adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy,” meaning that all entry would be referred to as criminal activity. 

“The zero-tolerance policy goes against our constitutional beliefs. We believe in due process, in no cruel or unusual punishment,” said Arielle Ruiz, a freshman journalism major. 

Shortly after the reports, DHS determined that the policy would only cover “alien adults” entering the United States, “because minor children cannot be held in criminal custody with an adult, alien adults would have to be separated from accompanying minor children ...” 

Ruiz added, “People are literally being taken away from their children and these are not children who speak Spanish. Many of them are indigenous, who speak languages that do not exist on paper.”

“Separating families at the border because you can is immoral. Taking away public benefits from immigrants and American-born citizen children is immoral,” Chin said. Chin mentioned the work and research that The Children’s Defense Fund contributes to child advocacy.

Levy-Lyons spoke on the story of immigration, its connection to the Hebrew Bible and its relations to current immigration issues. “The Hebrew people become the archetypal strangers throughout this [immigration] story and the rest of the Torah is a reaction, a response to that experience of being immigrants, being oppressed and being strangers in foreign land.” 

Levy-Lyons noted the current administration rejects the entire framework of the Biblical story and that it goes against the idea of welcoming, loving and creating a just world for the stranger.

“The current political climate has given me no choice but to come out and share my experience,” said Chirinos, who shared her experience as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient with the audience. 

Chirinos who moved to the United States when she was three years old, said that her journey with DACA began in the sixth grade. As a result, she was granted a social security number, a workers permit, driver’s license and temporary protection. 

Like many recipients, Chirinos’ only home, for years, has been the United States. “I am very grateful that students like me were giving some sort of protection by the national government with the DACA program, but currently, I am in a place where I don’t know what will happen to me next year, or the next 10 years,” Chirinos said. 

“I think [immigration] has its benefits and is detrimental on different aspects, it’s not the same for everyone, everyone has different experiences with it,” said Jennifer Maldonado, a freshman sociology major. “But for the most part, immigration has been proven to be economically, socially and culturally beneficial to this country.” 

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