© 2023 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Local Immigration Lawyers Host Public Discussion

Lily Oppenheimer

Once a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 21-year-old Triphonie Hafashimana has been an American permanent resident for nine years. Since her arrival in 2007, Hafashimana has only been issued a single traffic ticket. Now she’s scared that this misdemeanor could eventually label her as a criminal under the Trump administration’s new set of executive orders, a common fear of either undocumented or permanent residents.

“Why are these executive orders being sanctioned on people in general?” Hafashimana said.  “America used to be the place of acceptance…some of us come to the U.S to receive the new life that we wanted, but now, we’re not getting it. These executive orders, they could affect anyone from permanent resident, to undocumented, to Muslims.”

In light of the recent threat of expedited deportation from President Trump’s executive orders, the Columbia chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted a public discussion with local expert immigration lawyers Mihaela Britt and Helene Tatum on Wednesday night, led by University of Missouri School of Law Professor Frank Bowman.

Dozens of local parents, students and lawyers seeking immigration advice crowded into the DogMaster Distillery. The lawyers told the crowd the best thing to do was to be cautious, be aware of your constitutional rights, and get a lawyer.

“One of the things that frightens me the most with these executive orders are the expedited removals, meaning that people won’t have the opportunity to go in front of an immigration judge,” Tatum said. “So if they have some criminal background, or they have a previous removal order, they may never even have a chance to argue their case. Which is a clear constitutional issue.”

Both lawyers emphasized that past enforcement techniques, once discontinued, are coming back. They said the scary thing is any immigration violation could be deemed a criminal act.

“There was a lot of racial profiling. People were stopped, and it was all in the name of secure communities. It was not effective in any way,” Britt said. “There used to be a priority enforcement memo…and now that went away, so basically if the government stops somebody, and they have any kind of immigration violation, they are going to put them in detention.”

Tatum said that under these orders, even jaywalking or a traffic violation could lead to a “criminal record.” Every community will feel the impact, she said.

“Now another problem is there’s been a lot of work trying to get immigrants to report crimes,” Tatum said. “It puts the general public at risk too.”

Tatum also cautioned students from the seven countries listed in the travel ban that visa overstays will be taken more seriously. She said that even students who have valid visas are afraid to go back home to visit relatives.

“Just the fact that they’re from one of those seven countries has created a huge amount of fear,” Tatum said. “I do tell people who are students from those countries on the ban that I would recommend they not leave the country.”

Mizzou student Paula Herrera, who attended the forum, is pursuing an interdisciplinary major in Latin American studies and political science. She’s worked with the KC American Immigration Lawyers Association as a legal assistant, interpreter and translator for women with children who are being detained and seeking asylum.

“We tend to think of things like internment camps as a thing of the past, and that is incorrect,” Herrera said. “I think that we have found a way to continuously relegate certain groups, specifically racial and ethnic groups.”

Trump’s executive orders have evolved into what Herrera calls “crimigration.”

“That’s sort of using any minor violation of the law, like jaywalking, or turning without your blinker, things that are not even that serious such as a DWI, and turning that into a full-blown expedited deportation case,” she said.

She says the sentiment about Trump’s stance on immigrants and rounding up people based on religion, ethnicity and race, she said, is not a thing of the past, and is going to worsen.