On Tuesday morning, Margo Schlanger, University of Michigan law professor, gave a lecture on border enforcement, immigration and the Constitution at Washtenaw Community College to a group of approximately 300 Osher Lifelong Learning Institute members.

Schlanger’s talk, titled “The Constitution at the Border: When Immigration Policy and Constitutional Norms Clash,” was the final lecture in the OLLI distinguished lecture series for the 2018-2019 school year.

To begin, Schlanger discussed prominent discrimination cases in United States history that involved people of Asian descent. Focusing on two historic cases of discrimination, Chae Chan Ping v. United States and United States v. Wong Kim Ark, Schlanger detailed how Chinese people have historically had their American citizenship put into question.  

“Anti-Asian racism, a great deal of it is this idea of the permanent foreigner,” Schlanger said. “ … The character of American anti-Asian racism remains this stranger in our midst kind of idea, and so it should not be surprising that … that (racism) was the same set of ideas.”

Throughout the presentation, Schlanger defined equality, liberty and fairness as three important values in civil rights. She discussed the plenary power doctrine, a constitutional law that gives unrestricted power to an individual or body of government.

Schlanger then delved into the constitutionality of current United States immigration policies and enforcement measures.

“Instead of diffusing a loaded gun, and that is our Constitutional history, a loaded gun that allows race and religious discrimination, that allows unfair treatments and inhumane policies to go forward without any kind of judicial recognition at all … we are priming it for use, and I hope that will not happen,” Schlanger said.

Specifically, Schlanger cited some of the Trump administration’s controversial immigration and border control policies, such as the June 2018 travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries and the separation of families attempting to cross the United States/Mexico border.

To Schlanger, Trump’s border control policies were a blatant violation of an individual’s civil rights.

“The particulars of this (travel ban) policy, they just don’t serve the rationale assertively,” Schlanger said. “There is an idea that certain people are exempt in it, and you wonder why are they exempted. Certain waiver processes are in place, and you wonder how you decide on those waiver processes.”

Additionally, Schlanger shared her experience working on a particular deportation case. Her client had been arrested more than three decades ago for pulling out an unloaded gun during a confrontation.

After being released from prison, Schlanger’s client lost his green card and was sentenced to be deported back to Iraq; however, he was permitted to stay in the United States because of Iraq’s refusal to accept deportees. When Trump signed the revised version of an executive order that took Iraq off the list of countries in the travel ban in 2017, Schlanger’s client was informed he could be deported.

“His hearing hasn’t happened, but he ought to be entitled to what is called cancellation,” Schlanger said. “He’s going to end up getting his green card back and as soon as he gets his green card back he’s actually going to be able to naturalize, to be an American citizen.”

At the conclusion of her lecture, Schlanger said she thinks the United States should be at a point where civil rights norms apply to immigration.

“I thought we were heading towards a place that was better than that, and I’m still hopeful that in 10 or 15 years we will be in a place that’s better than that,” Schlanger said. “That’s the fight that’s going on right now.”

Al Gourdji, OLLI distinguished lecture chair, explained to The Daily after the lecture why the distinguished lecturer committee chose to feature Schlanger in their series.

“She appeared in some publication where her views were being known, so she got a lot of publicity already,” Gourdji said.

Carol Doyle said she comes to all of the OLLI lectures and thought Schlanger was very knowledgeable.

“There are details about things I don’t read in the paper,” Doyle said. “She’s able to give some background to it which is very helpful.”

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