MALDEF president Trasviña discusses immigration in inaugural Bickel & Brewer Latinos and the Law Lecture (VIDEO)
John Trasviña, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), gave the inaugural Bickel & Brewer Latinos and the Law Lecture, part of the Public Interest Law Center’s Leaders in Public Interest Series, on February 9. In his talk, “National Immigration Policy in the New Administration,” Trasviña, former special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices in the Clinton administration, enumerated the most pressing elements of an issue that is deeply important to a nation founded by immigrants.
The ways of dealing with immigration are evolving, Trasviña said. Although MALDEF was once known primarily for its litigation efforts, “the nature of lawyering has changed. There needs to be much more advocacy—advocacy in front of state legislatures, advocacy in front of local city councils. It’s cheaper and much more effective to win at the advocacy level rather than having to go into court.”
The recent national wave of local anti-immigrant ordinance efforts in places such as Valley Park, Missouri; Farmers Branch, Texas; San Bernardino, California; Hazelton, Pennsylvania; and Cherokee County, Georgia, has been driven more by right-wing talk radio than by any real immigration spike in those localities, Trasviña said. In the case of Valley Park, its ordinance referred to the burden of illegal immigrants on local hospitals, even though the town had no hospital. Anti-immigrant rhetoric, he said, has also led to a record level of anti-Latino hate crimes.
As chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, Trasviña had a hand in the creation of a single platform document expressing the consensus of 26 different Latino organizations concerning issues important to Latinos, including education, immigration, civil rights, health, economic opportunity, and government accountability. The platform was delivered to both the Democratic and Republican party platform committees in 2008. Trasviña said he was generally optimistic about the new Obama administration, citing the president’s work as a senator on an improved electronic employment verification system, an issue important to workers’ rights. Another positive sign, Trasviña said, was Obama’s promise of comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his presidency.
Referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s history of apprehending immigrants its agents encounter during searches for other individuals, Trasviña argued, “That is an enforcement strategy that isn’t applied when police are looking for a rapist. It isn’t applied when they’re trying to get the thieves off of Wall Street, but it is applied on immigration. What that means is that many members of our community are in fear.” This fear can be a hindrance to local law enforcement, he said, when investigating crimes involving immigrant communities, adding that a renewed focus on immigrants who have been found guilty of deportable crimes would be more useful than tracking down immigrants who are not.
Immigration affects everyone, Trasviña concluded, and every American has a part to play: “It’s important that we as lawyers, law students, and future lawyers provide the law and the facts to people so it gives them the ability to say, ‘This isn’t right. This is not what America stands for.’ There is a vast majority of people of good will who can stand up and make a difference.”