BC Expert: Immigration Crisis
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Associate Professor & Director of the Immigrant Integration Lab
Graduate School of Social Work
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Westy Egmont is an associate professor and director of the Immigrant Integration Lab at Boston College's Graduate School of Social Work. He is a leading expert in the area of immigrant integration and refugee resettlement. Other areas of expertise include migration and human trafficking. The Immigrant Integration Lab is an applied research center exploring the intersection of social work and social policy to determine the most appropriate services and delivery systems that lead to full social, civic, and economic integration of the foreign born in the United States. Prior to coming to BC, he served as president of the International Institute of Boston, a leader in New England in providing services to immigrants and refugees. He also co-chaired the National Immigrant Integration Conference and founded “Dreams of Freedom,” a multimedia exhibition covering the immigration experience in Boston from the Puritans to present day.
As the political tug of war over immigration plays out in Washington with lawmakers working on a bipartisan bill that might solve the issue, the humanitarian crisis continues to play out along this country’s borders for the innocent children looking for a better life.
“There’s no doubt there is a gigantic, awesome human drama being acted out,” says Associate Professor Westy Egmont, an immigration expert with Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work. “The United Nations has recognized this as ‘children on the run’ and a refugee crisis. We’ve not seen anything like this before.”
The Obama Administration has requested from Congress $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help deal with the thousands of unaccompanied children who have already arrived, and for the thousands more who are expected to cross the borders of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
“What the President has asked for is money to fulfill the law as it’s currently written, which says these children must be treated with legal representation and there must be a determination made regarding what’s best for the child,” says Egmont, director of the Immigrant Integration Lab at Boston College. “This is a law signed by President Bush and needs to be respected. Suddenly the Republicans who voted for this bill and put it on the former President’s desk are saying that they want to rescind the law because they can’t figure what to do with these children. What we need to do with the children is give them legal representation, unite them with family members when and if that is possible, and then provide for them an adequate system of foster care or intermediate human safety while they’re being processed. Simply rounding them up and dumping them across the border is a deleterious and frightening option.
“There should be a consensus from every political stripe and every state that the protection of these children is a common humanitarian response,” says Egmont, former president of the International Institute of Boston, a leader in New England in providing services to immigrants and refugees. “It should be our first response as a country, it should be the President’s first concern, it should be the first concern of Congress. These are children who are vulnerable and their protection should be put before politics, and before any other issue in this conversation. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things get played out. We have lots of folks who are taking advantage of the humanitarian crisis to score political points, we have folks who are positioning themselves for political gain, we have disputes in Washington that are not getting resolved and a lot of finger pointing. And so the children’s protection gets put on the back burner instead of the front burner. And that’s totally unacceptable to anybody of conscience.
“At the moment, the system is ill-prepared for this assault of need,” says Egmont, whose expertise also includes migration and human trafficking. “We can’t simply be blind to it or overly reactive by wanting to punish the victim. These are children who are already in flight who took enormous risks because they believe their situation is so bad where they are that any risk that they take is better than staying still. We can’t help but have some humanitarian concern about their welfare and right now they are the pawns in a political drama.
“These children have already survived crossing borders from Guatemala to Mexico – a long and arduous journey up to the US border, crossed again into the United States. They have proven that they are survivors, that they are tough, and have an incredible stamina and will power and desire to get here. What we’re experiencing though is the children who have arrived are in a situation where the law says they must be treated with legal representation and there must be a determination made regarding what’s best for the child.”
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