Gerald L. Nino, CBP, U.S. Deptatment of Homeland Security | WikiMedia Commons
The amount of law students at California State University, Long Beach interested in studying immigration law has seemed to increase, according to Dr. Jason Whitehead, an associate professor of political science at CSULB.
During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Wednesday morning, Whitehead said he’s noticed a 75-percent spike in Latino students that want to study immigration law.
He said the current political landscape in regard to immigration is the catalyst that has some of his students hungry to pursue a career in migrant litigation.
Whitehead, along with Dr. Lauren Heidbrink, CSULB assistant professor of human development, and Dr. Kristina Lovato, CSULB assistant professor of social work, is studying ways in which family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border are affecting immigrants who are detained.
The Signal Tribune reached out to both Heidbrink and Lovato for comment, however, an interview could not be conducted by press time.
In a response email, however, Heidbrink wrote that she was in Italy collecting data on child migrations. Her field of study includes Central-American child migration to countries such as the U.S.
In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a Department of Justice (DOJ) memo that anyone entering the country illegally will be met with “the full prosecutorial powers of the DOJ.”
The memo reads, “the situation at our southwest border is unacceptable. Congress has failed to pass effective legislation that serves the national interest– that closes dangerous loopholes and fully funds a wall along our southern border. As a result, a crisis has erupted at our southwest border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border.”
In recent months, it was reported in the media that thousands of children were separated from their families as a result of the Zero Tolerance policy– which allows law-enforcement to prosecute adults who illegally enter the country, including those accompanied by minors, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Pressure from the public and the media eventually caused Trump to enact legislation to end family separations. San Diego Federal Judge Dana Sabraw ruled on June 26 that migrant families who remained separated at the border must be reunited within 30 days, according to Ballotpedia.
Since then, the federal government has been attempting to locate adults who were detained and released in order to reunite them with their children, which Whitehead said is difficult to process.
“It’s very hard to find those family members– it’s very hard to find those parents,” he said. “It’s not like a criminal that’s being released with an ankle bracelet or something like that. It’s very difficult to track.”
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez released a statement on July 26 condemning family separations.
“The unconscionable cruelty continues,” the statement reads. “Once again, the Trump administration has defied a court order and failed to reunite children with their parents after heartlessly tearing them apart. When history is written, Donald Trump’s treatment of immigrant families will be remembered as one of our nation’s darkest hours.”
Despite his disapproval of family separations, Whitehead said that the Trump administration was following federal orders established since the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court Reno v Flores case ruling.
It was decided in that hearing that the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s regulations– an agency that dissolved in 2003, according to a National Archives web page– regarding the release of undocumented and unaccompanied minors did not violate the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Whitehead said he believes the Trump administration could have handled the issue a different way, despite federal agencies following legal guidelines.
“I do think that there were ways to do this in a way that respected the human rights of the individuals involved,” he said.
Whitehead explained that the original ruling from the Reno v Flores case stated that children separated from undocumented immigrants had to be held for 20 days.
Deportation hearings currently taking place for families may last longer than those 20 days, so a second choice would be to reunite the families and hold them together in the U.S., he said.
“You can’t hold them together because that violates the law,” Whitehead said. “You can’t hold them separately for longer than 20 days, so if [the federal government is] going to step up illegal-immigration enforcement, they’re really being kept in by these legal rulings.”
Whitehead mentioned that previous administrations had charged detainees with immigration offenses, but then released them into communities– this was known as the “catch-and-release” method. He said that undocumented migrants that were released would be monitored and asked to check in to local immigration agencies similar to criminals on probation.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that [proves] that [this] was wildly under-effective,” he said. “The Trump administration and Trump voters have been very upset by this policy– saying that this was responsible for thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants in their local communities.”
Whitehead said reports of current immigration issues have sparked curiosity and engagement in his class.
“When these things are brought up in the classroom, [students] tend to be very engaged,” he said. “They themselves, or family members, are caught up in these events. It’s a very activist generation, in the sense that they don’t want to just learn something, they want to go out and do something.”