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Immigration lawyer speaks at Saint Mary’s regarding policy

| Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Immigration lawyer Cecilia L. Monterrosa came to Saint Mary’s to speak to students and other community members Tuesday about policies surrounding immigration. The conversation happened over pizza slices and lemonade and covered the constitutionality of some of the recent immigration policy implemented under the Trump administration.

She broke down some of the simpler parts of policy such as definitions and the recent changes in policy, but admitted that the issue was also very complicated in nature.

“[Immigration Nationality Act] INA is more complicated than the tax codes,” Monterrosa said.

She places value on words such as immigrant and refugee, along with some of the finer details such as undocumented versus illegal.

“The law does describe these individuals, but I prefer to say undocumented individuals. No person is illegal and that is absolutely true,” Monterrosa said.

This distinction was important to Monterrosa because the language that undocumented individuals are referred to as in the media and by the President is less than flattering. She said she finds comfort in the fact that a lot of the proposed legislation is in her mind considered unconstitutional, and therefore will not be implemented. Monterrosa believes in the judicial system’s ability to check Donald Trump.

“Every time you hear about the crazy stuff that is said in the news, always go back to the fact that there is a constitution and they cannot do this,” Monterrosa said. “It is frustrating to hear many of the things, especially because of the type of work that I do. It is very frustrating to hear the comments, to hear what goes on, to read the tweets, but my mind always goes back to ‘Well the Constitution says that they can’t do this, so sorry buddy you are not going to get this done.’”

She offers up the Constitution as a sort of solace for both the people listening in the room and the people she helps on a daily basis.

“If you live in the United States, then you are protected by the Constitution of the United States no matter if you are an undocumented immigrant, a citizen or whatever,” Monterrosa said. “We still have the U.S. Constitution and if there is a law that violates that, then that law is not valid.”

She also offered some moral advice about how her listeners could offset some of this frustration within the community she helps. She said that little interactions and kindnesses can help to ease the process.

“This [gaining immigration status] is very difficult for the individuals who are living it,” Monterrosa said. “Just be kind and be nice and treat everyone with respect regardless of where they came from.”

Her focus of small acts of kindness does not outweigh her criticism of the policy that the Trump administration including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose position includes enacting immigration policy. She cites its choice to strengthen and broaden the restrictions of what causes people to be placed in removal proceedings, and the views of the administration that every immigrant is a threat to security.

“Now it is coming to the point where they just want to put everybody into removal proceedings because everybody was a priority,” Monterrosa said. “That was not the case with the previous administration, and just previously, in general, they are using the national security to try and get away with these types of policy changes.”

After many countries turned away Jewish refugees at the beginning of World War II who were late executed by the Nazis, the United Nations structured policy to make it illegal to turn away refugees who had a substantial claim that they were going to be tortured or killed if returned to their native countries. The U.S. agreed to this policy. Monterrosa used this policy as legal precedence against Trump’s policy involving the “migrant caravan.”

“There are international human rights laws that have been violated, that are continuously violated and that will continue to be violated by this,” Monterrosa said. “[Turning the caravan away] is just one of the ways that [international law] will be violated because you cannot … turn away people who are more likely than not are going to be tortured in their country. You cannot turn them away. And the President says that they are going to turn them away, then he’s violating international law.”

She cites that the most effective way that Saint Mary’s and tri-campus community members can help and positively affect immigration policy is through casting their ballots.

“The only thing I can tell you to do to help is vote,” Monterrosa said. “Vote for individuals that you know will protect rights.”

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