By Justin Busby
Whatcom hosted a celebration of Immigration Rights free to the public in Syre Student Center on Wednesday, May 3.
Syre auditorium was filled with an audience of students and many Bellingham community members eager to hear the words of Hiroshi Motomura, a professor of law at UCLA, award-winning immigration author, and a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow grant recipient for his exemplary work on immigration law and policy.
The event featured a keynote introduction from Motomura before engaging with the audience in a live panel discussion with local immigration attorney Hannah Stone and lawyer Scott Railton, and students of Western and Whatcom Community College.
Motomura, Stone, and Railton provided the background of legal representation and research while the students shared personal stories and experiences towards the ever-changing and confusing topic of immigration.
Before starting the discussion, WCC President Kathi H. Hiyane-Brown quickly advocated the importance of education in the field of law, and the addition of a new paralegal immigration program to be offered next fall, Fairhaven College Dean Jack Herring echoed the necessity for schooling while also briefly emphasizing perspective of individuals that might be involved and how we all view this problem a little differently.
Whatcom County Council member Satpal Sidhur brought up the importance of having discussions of immigration and immigrant rights and knowing the history behind immigration in the U.S., especially through Canadian and Mexican borders.
Sidhur also presented the council’s plan to build a solid granite “Arch of Healing and Reconciliation” to acknowledge the 110th anniversary of the Bellingham Riots when hundreds of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and South-Asian immigrants were run out of town in Sept. 1907.
Motomura’s keynote speech was a short introduction and preference to open discussion with the panel to all topics on immigration rather than lecturing the audience on complex policies and economic principles, preferring to “pass the note, and let us do the singing”.
The three students included in the panel spoke about the fear and uncertainty flowing through their communities, sourcing President Donald Trump’s executive orders as the cause of these feelings.
They also discussed personal-life changing decisions that their families and relatives must make when leaving a country for a better life. A Western student commented on the environment of the campus as “not safe at all.”
The discussion focused on a wide variety of immigration topics from Trump’s executive orders, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), immigrant quotas, and ethical checking of local law enforcement.
Stone highlighted systemic issues and inefficiencies in the immigration and deportation process, with some immigrants having to wait in a metaphorical line for seven to 13 years. Stone says that the deportation line for undocumented/unlawful workers is just as backlogged
Motomura also criticized Trump’s promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and the financial logistics a project of that size would require.
The professor believes that an investment that large would be better suited going to the nation’s education problems and refurbish infrastructure.
Motomura closed the celebration with the fact that these problems with immigration have systemic roots built over decades and will take a considerable amount of time for significant improvements.
Motomura said that a four-year term of the president is too short of a time for concrete solutions to be set in place, and that naming the problems and approaching them in a sobering way is a starting point.
The celebration brought forward issues with immigration policy and immigrants right that will surely lead to more discussion when more details for the arch and anniversary in Sept. are revealed.
The celebration was sponsored by Student Life and Development, Student Services, and Paralegal Studies of Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University’s Center for Law, Diversity, and Justice at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Music by a mariachi ensemble was provided in the courtyard and food was sold from food trucks in the parking lot.
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