U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) were among the featured guests at the inaugural conference of UCLA School of Law’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, which occurred over three consecutive Fridays in April and May.
The virtual gathering, “Immigration Policy in the Biden Administration: The First 100 Days and Beyond,” drew more than 1,000 participants from around the world for more than 14 hours of panels that featured many of the nation’s leading immigration scholars and advocates. It was organized by Distinguished Professor Hiroshi Motomura and Professor from Practice Ahilan Arulanantham, the faculty co-directors of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy, which launched in 2020.
“This event was an uncommon convening that brought together immigration academics and key people from the worlds of advocacy and government in probing conversations,” says Motomura, who is one of the nation’s top scholars in immigration law and policy.
Day-long programs took place on April 23, April 30, and May 7.
The April 23 discussions focused on “Activism, Litigation, and Detention.” The first panel focused on the nature of activism through the lens of the acclaimed 2020 documentary The Infiltrators, about a group of young undocumented activists who exposed flaws in an Obama-era immigration policy that targeted people with criminal histories, some of whom were later deported for their activism. Cecillia Wang, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, delivered the keynote conversation with UCLA Law Professor Ingrid Eagly. Wang answered questions about her leadership role in national immigrants’ rights litigation in the past and how she thinks about litigation strategy in the Biden administration. And an afternoon panel, moderated by Nina Rabin, director of UCLA Law’s Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, addressed the question, “Should Immigration Detention Be Abolished?”
“I’m truly grateful that we were able to bring these experts together to shine a light on these important topics,” says Arulanantham, who joined UCLA Law in 2021 after 16 years leading immigrants’ rights and national security litigation at the ACLU of Southern California.
On April 30, the summit pivoted to focus on “Movement Lawyering, the Department of Homeland Security, and Asylum.” Panels on “Movement Lawyering During the Biden Administration” and “Asylum and Other Humanitarian Protections: the Short and Long Term” – the latter of which was moderated by UCLA Law Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, who serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – bookended a keynote conversation between Arulanantham and Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas.
The conversation with Secretary Mayorkas was extraordinary on a number of levels. It is highly unusual for a sitting Homeland Security Secretary to appear in a detailed and substantive conversation with a professor and attorney representing immigrants.
In that wide-ranging and detailed discussion – which aired live on C-SPAN – Mayorkas, who immigrated from Cuba as a child, discussed a range of important policy issues with Arulanantham, including the treatment of children at the border, sanctuary cities, and racism in the immigration enforcement system. Their spirited but respectful conversation should serve as a model for how people can productively discuss their disagreements in the immigration context and elsewhere. “It’s an honor to speak with everyone and participate with Ahilan and the wonderful center here at UCLA,” Mayorkas said.
The final day of the conference featured panels regarding “Inside vs. Outside Strategies and Congress vs. the Executive Branch.” A session on “Building Power During the Biden Administration: Inside vs. Outside Advocacy” concerned the resumption of efforts to engage directly with, and within, the White House on immigration efforts. Another presentation titled “Congress, the Courts, and the President: Who Should Do What, and When, to Protect Immigrants’ Rights?” focused on how advocates should think about achieving meaningful protection from deportation and lawful status for the nation’s undocumented population.
During the Day 3 keynote conversation, Sen. Padilla joined Motomura in a broad discussion. “Immigration is very personal to me,” Padilla said. “I am the proud son of immigrants from Mexico. My parents, like so many others, came to this country in search of a better life.”
Their conversation also marked an unusual and important milestone in transparency, as Motomura probed the senator’s positions on a number of important topics, including legislation involving border and naturalization issues and how immigration impacts jobs and critical industries, from farming to technology. “No state has more at stake in immigration policy than the state of California,” said Padilla, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “California is home to a quarter of the country’s foreign-born population, and immigrants are clearly critical not just to society in general but to our economy.”
Watch the C-SPAN video of Secretary Mayorkas’s appearance here.