A.B.A. Leader Urges Changes In Immigration Laws

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Speaking at the Boston College Law School on Oct. 6, American Bar Association President-elect Philip Anderson criticized recent restrictions on immigrants' social and legal rights, and urged lawyers to work individually and through organizations to improve the situation.

"We must marshal public opinion in favor of a change in the law," Anderson said. "Congress reflects the mood of the people; it's a political process. The way we can change public opinion is by urging law schools and bar associations to speak out to the public and bring this to their attention.

"What's happening now is simply an outrage," he said. "It is an outrage to treat any person in the United States the way detainees are being treated in detention centers and it's our job to teach people just how bad it really is."

Anderson's appearance was part of the Law School's observance of First Monday, a national program that celebrates law as a force for social justice on the day the Supreme Court term opens. This year's event focused on immigration issues, particularly the impact of recent legislation affecting immigrants' access to the courts.

In addition to Anderson, Law School Dean Aviam Soifer and Adj. Assoc. Prof. Daniel Kanstroom (Law), an expert on immigration issues, spoke to the audience of administrators, faculty and students.

With immigration policy "a flashpoint" in American history, Anderson said it was not surprising to see the sentiment reflected in Congress' passage of laws restricting immigrants' ability to use the legal process. For example, Immigration and Naturalization Services employees can now decide on requests for asylum at ports of entry without judicial review or appeal.

"The legislation has resulted in greater numbers of detainees being held for sufficiently longer periods before their cases are resolved," Anderson said. "The sheer numbers threaten to overwhelm the available resources from church-funded projects and existing ABA programs."

Among its initiatives aimed at solving the problem, he said, the ABA is recruiting lawyers to work with arriving immigrants in detention. In addition, it is working with agencies in the executive branch to ensure detainees are aware of their rights and can communicate with attorneys.

Anderson pointed out that only legislation can overturn the laws now in place, and said the ABA will be active in this area as well.

"We are confident that Congress can fashion legislation that adequately protects our national security," he said, "and at the same time, treats people seeking political asylum - including those who flee from war and strife - as well as those who simply hope for a better life, with that degree of fairness, and respect for the dignity of humanity, that characterizes a compassionate America."

In his remarks, Soifer said the Law School was fortunate to have Anderson use "the bully pulpit" of the ABA to address such a controversial matter.

"It is also fitting that we have this program here today because this school has stood for so long for a commitment to the search for justice," Soifer said.

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