U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson called for a bipartisan response to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in his keynote address at the 12th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference.
The Georgetown University Law Center, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and the Migration Policy Institute co-hosted the conference in the Georgetown University Law Center Hart Auditorium on Oct. 29.
“We must account for these people. They are not going away in a Democratic or a Republican administration,” Johnson said. “We want to encourage them to come forward, submit to a background check and if eligible, to get on the books. And to those of us who say we do not have the authority to do this without a change in law, then I say it’s time to change the law.”
Panels on issues of immigration in American politics, specifically focusing on the 2016 presidential election and unaccompanied children detained on the U.S.-Mexico border, followed the speeches.
Panelists came from immigration advocacy groups and government immigration departments, and also included legal scholars.
The panel discussions included “Today’s Politics and U.S. Immigration Policy,” “Exploring the Future of Executive Action,” “Unaccompanied Central American Children: One Year Later” and “Examining the Growth of Immigrant Detention and the Future of Detention Alternatives.”
Migration Policy Institute Director of Communications and Public Affairs Michelle Mittelstadt highlighted the growth of the conference since its first year, and addressed the most timely issues in the sphere of immigration.
“We feel that immigration is a subject both in policy and politics that is often misunderstood,” Mittelstadt said. “The conference takes its shape annually from not only what has been the top policy discussions that have taken place but also what are likely to be the top policy discussions in the year ahead. I think the conference was reflective of where the country and where the debate is right now.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres delivered the other keynote address of the day. He focused on the humanitarian aspects of the European refugee crisis, highlighting the situation’s social and moral costs.
“The humanitarian response capacity of the world is no longer enough to be able to provide the minimum levels of core protection and the minimum levels of lifesaving assistance to the people,” Guterres said.
Director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration Susan Martin said that Guterres’ speech gave an honest depiction of the global refugee crisis.
“The high commissioner gave an excellent lecture that really captured what’s happening today with regards to refugees and displaced persons,” Martin said. “I thought he was very frank and wasn’t pulling any punches in talking about what are some of the constraints facing the problems in working globally on refugee issues.”
Mittelstadt also expressed the belief that the panels were thought-provoking but pessimistic about the U.S. government’s reaction to immigration issues.
“Some of the biggest takeaways were that there’s little expectation that Congress and this administration or a new administration are going to quickly turn to immigration legislation,” Mittelstadt said. “I think that the discussion coming out of a couple of the panels made clear that there’s nothing that currently suggests that there’s the political space for the parties to come together and do something in Congress.”
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